Since Star 94.1 host Jenn Hobby and her husband Grant Rivera received the news that their then 10-month-old daughter Reese had a cancerous mass in her pelvic region on August 13, their life has been an emotional roller coaster of hospital visits, prayers and quick lessons in radiation and chemotherapy treatments.
"The sound and my peripheral vision went away," Hobby said when the doctor told them the bad news. "It was very strange. It was just like that shocking moment where you don't know what it all means and you're trying to figure it out."
The good news is Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston had the expertise to deal with Reese's illness. And the hospital happens to have a state-of-the-art radio studio, courtesy of Dunwoody High School grad Ryan Seacrest, whose charity foundation built it in 2010. Seacrest began his media career a quarter century ago as a high-school student DJing at Star 94 in 1991.
Wendy Threatt at Seacrest Studios made the space available to Jeff Dauler and Hobby on days that Hobby's daughter is being treated with chemotherapy. Threatt, who worked at Star from 1984 to 2008, has been the program coordinator since Seacrest Studios launched.
"She welcomed us with open arms," Hobby said. "I spent the night upstairs on the Aflac Cancer floor. I was able to change clothes and come on down here. That's work-life balance!"
The studio is mostly used for patients within the Children's Healthcare hospital system and dozens of big-name celebrity visitors have come by, from Kevin Spacey and Chris Platt to Luke Bryan and Justin Bieber to Meghan Trainor and the Backstreet Boys. In the past, stations such as Dave FM and Fish 104.7 have done their shows from the studios.
Star's morning team, which has seen ratings rise steadily since the show launched six months ago, tried the studios out for the first time this morning. All went smoothly.
Fox 5, 11 Alive and I came by to interview Hobby and Rivera. Here's my Facebook Live video with them. Unfortunately, it blurred for reasons I cannot quite ascertain. I suspect because I pointed my iPhone between Hobby and Rivera, the camera focused behind them. When Hobby had to go back on the air and I focused just on Rivera for the last couple of minutes, he sharpened immediately.
Rivera, who is chief of staff at Cobb County Schools, in the interview said he looked around at first to see if he needed to re-locate to another hospital in another city to treat Reese. But fortunately, the international expert on the rare cancer was part of CHOA. "It's minutes away from our doorstep in Atlanta," Rivera said. "I didn't realize how special CHOA is and how thankful we have CHOA Atlanta. We are here and not in another part of the country."
Reese is going through four rounds of chemotherapy, then a surgery to remove the hopefully shrunken tumor. She is currently in round two.
"She's been doing really well," Hobby said. "She's just this happy, vibrant, curious little 11 month old. She's had some side effects. Her hair started falling out this week, which is really heartbreaking more for her parents... Her appetite was affected a little bit." After chemo, she said, her energy and appetite dips but then it comes back.
Reese is too young to have any fear. "She's really blissfully unaware," she said. "She doesn't know any different."
Their older daughter Lauren is three and understands her sister is sick. But they don't use the "c" words "cancer" and "chemotherapy" in the household. "She's aware of what's going on," Hobby said.