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Winter 1999

The Scientist and the Cure
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In the spring of 1998, life for Giorgi was going well. The New Yorker profile was in the works; plans for the vaccine trial were moving ahead; and she was excited about her collaboration with Anton and British scientist Thomas Lehner, whose success with the vaccine in monkeys had paved the way for human tests. The trio had formulated their plan for the human vaccine study that March at an AIDS symposium in Palm Springs. Earlier that year, Giorgi had applied for an AIDS vaccine grant to the American Foundation for AIDS Research, the nonprofit organization founded by Elizabeth Taylor. The following spring, she would be one of only nine investigators in the country to receive one.

On April 9, 1998, Giorgi went to the doctor for her routine annual exam. Her appointment was at 11 a.m. She'd recently switched health-care plans, and was seeing a new physician for the first time. In the midst of the exam, the doctor said he'd found something worrisome; he wanted to check it out immediately. Three hours later, Giorgi had a sonogram. The test could hardly have revealed an image more disturbing. Inside Giorgi's uterus was a tumor the size of a grapefruit.

Surgery was scheduled for five days later. Giorgi downplayed her illness, telling her staff she'd need to be out of the office for several weeks to have a "little" surgery. "It's a 99 percent chance it's nothing," she told Mary Ann Hausner.

It wasn't. Giorgi had an extremely rare form of uterine cancer, a type present in only 1 percent of women with the disease. Without treatment, the chances of survival after four years are 20 percent.

Over the next year, Giorgi disappeared from her lab. She underwent surgery and six rounds of aggressive chemotherapy. Her mane of long ebony hair -- her trademark -- fell out. Intensely protective of those she loves, she suffered in private, telling few of the gravity of her disease. Even so, she continued to work. Twice a day, Hausner would make the 40-minute commute from Westwood to Giorgi's Woodland Hills home to drop off and retrieve packages for the scientist. "I can't believe how many papers she published that year. It was phenomenal," Hausner says.

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