Sorry for the weird layout!)***
So a funny thing happend to me this week. A friend called from a party in New York
and said that a bunch of people there saw me on TV a few days ago.
I thought, “Wha?”
I didn’t even know there were TV news cameras at A3M’s Gala event last weekend.
It was an amazing and very surreal night and yours truly got a taste of what it
feels like to be a mini-celebrity.
Once we were seated for dinner, my friend Jerome said “Hey, that’s you.” Again, I
said “Wha?” turned around in my chair and (trumpets please) there is a HUGE shiny
poster to the left of the stage. There I am, all 12 feet of me, my head three feet across
and (horror!) dancing like a dork in the $8 green 80’s dress from Prom Night! Adding to
the weirdness were quotes from my writings, layered to the side of and below my
exuberant image. It looked like one of those Laker flags at Staples Center.
The elegant dinner consisted of hundreds of people. Asian-American actors were
honored and people spoke. Then it was time for my speech. People were clinking
glasses and jangling forks and I thought, “Oh, great. Everyone’s busy eating.” But I
leaned on the podium anyway and began to read my speech. Some sentences in, I
realized I had not looked up and the room had gone eerily quiet. Still reading the
speech, I lifted my head to see a cornfield of eyes locked on my face. Even the wait
staff had become paralyzed in mid-service, clutching water pitchers and empty salad
The speech ended in a burst of applause and I slinked back to my chair, humbled once
more. A tap on the shoulder, I turn around and there smiles Yuji Okumoto. He said
“Beautiful words. Incredible story. You’re an inspiration.” But all I could think was “Oh
my GAWD! You’re the guy from Karate Kid II !” Here’s the pic to prove it.
After dessert, the VIPs sauntered into the main theater. I had to rush backstage
because I was basically the “opening act”. As I came down the hallway, every security
guard had an earpiece and as I walked by, they would press their fingers against their
ears ala Mission Impossible. The communiqué was “Christine is coming down the main
hallway and headed towards the stage door”. Wha? What am I?! Aerosmith?!
The main act was Martin Nievera, who has been described as the “Ricky Martin of the
Philippines”. We barely had a chance to bond before I was ushered from the green
room to the stage. It was the first time I saw the theater and when I looked up, what
went through my head was “O.M.F.G.!!!!!” The place was HUGE.
It reminded me of a Vienna opera house. There was a Mezzanine AND three additional
tiers. Gulp. The MCs for the evening darted past me and onto the stage and (adding to
the surrealism) began to talk about someone named “Christine Pechera”. Then the
room hushed once more and projected on the giant movie screen was the latest short
film of my story. So I’m standing there, watching this film and living through the
transplant all over again. Up on screen, I am in cotton hospital gown, bald, bloated and
in turmoil. It was quite a contrast to my silk red evening gown, heels, coiffed hair and
the undeniable realization once more of “Wow. I’m still breathing… this kicks azz!”
The film ends and a nudge from the stage manager has my heels echoing across the
stage to the podium. The place was cavernous. After the applause died down, I
squinted into the white-hot spotlight and for a brief second, had to resist the urge to
raise my arms ala Evita and sing, “Don’t cry for me ArgenTINA!”
Since the same hundreds of people from the Gala dinner were now peppered in the
audience of perhaps 2000, I had prepared a completely different speech. At one point,
I had the entire theater inhale and exhale slowly as one. That was pretty awesome.
After I spoke, I thought, “Great, my job is done. Time to relax” and I snuck to my chair
in the audience. Martin Nievera bursted onto the stage and rocked the house. I was
enjoying the music when suddenly things went Twilight Zone again. I heard my name
bellowing from the huge speakers, echoing all around. “Where is she?! Where is
Christine Pechera?!” cried out Mr. Nievera. My eyes widened. “Oh NO, he isn’t!” The
house lights came up and Martin was now at the edge of the stage, hand on his brow as
if peering through the fog for a distant ship. Oh well… you only live once… so I bolted
up from my seat, frantically waved my arms and screamed “I’m HERE Marteeeeeen!!!!!”
The entire audience in the orchestra section around me was sitting low in their seats and
there I was bopping up and down like a Jack-In-The-Box. As soon as I stood up, there
was a collective gasp as in “Oh my God, she is sitting right HERE?! Holy shmokie!” I
guess should have asked for a box seat?
Anyway, Martin spots me and says some nice things, which makes my cheeks blush.
Then the lights go down, the spotlight hones in and Nievera SERENADES me from the
stage! It was like one of those teenage Rock’n’Roll fantasies where Elvis picks YOU
out of the crowd, points and says “Hey you. (hubbahubba) Yeah you. (a-hubba) I’m
singing this next song just for YOU.” The song was called Wildflower and the lyrics
went something like ”She’s made it. She’s finally made it. She’s blooming wide, like a
At intermission, I decided to go to the lobby to look at the items in the Silent Auction.
With my “entourage”, we passed the earpieced security guards, pushed beyond the
stage door and out into the crowd.
I never made it to the Silent Auction tables.
I couldn’t walk more than a step or two before a nice man wanted a picture or an
excited lady wanted to meet or another wanted to share her story. I tried my best to
answer all questions and fulfill all requests but had to retreat backstage when it became
too much. But backstage, photos were taken with the choir, the stage managers,
members of the band, press people and of course, Martin Nievera.
Towards the end the evening, a staff member of A3M approached me and said, “I don’t
know what you said or did but the marrow drive in the lobby is out of control!” When I
last checked there were well over 100 people signed up and more to go. It was the
most registrants A3M had ever seen on their annual Gala night... ever. More signed up
than in the last five Gala nights combined. Cool!
As one of the founders of A3M said, “This was a magical night”. And it was. I met
some incredible people and heard some amazing stories of survival. This included other
BMT survivors and those recently diagnosed. In the end, we are all in this together.
My goal for the night was about creating awareness, spreading the word, and saving
lives. I wanted to inspire others to speak up, to live, to DO something. I think we,
(that is EVERYONE who contributed to the Gala fundraiser) can say we changed a
small part of the world that night. On posters and invites, the evening was fittingly
called the “Miracles” concert.
Long after the concert was over, there remained a serpentine line outside waiting as
Nievera signed autographs at a table. I was spent from all the attention and just wanted
to go home, light some candles and soak in a hot bath. As I walked out, Nievera’s PR
guy called out to me, and turned to Nievera exclaiming, “Christine is LEAVING!” Martin
jumped from his chair and we hugged across the velvet ropes. He whispered, “You stay
healthy”. I gushed, “You stay awesome.” (I’m such a cheeseball!)
As I walked out to leave, a small group of people followed. I guess they wanted to
watch me climb into my limo and wave as I headed back to my swanky mansion in
the Hollywood Hills. The problem: There is no mansion and there was no Limo. Instead
everyone was treated to a walk into the parking lot and the sing-song of my car.
The engine purred, I shifted gears, and headed towards the Freeway back to Reality.