Jessica Queller had everything going for her at the young age of 35: An amazing career on the hit show Gilmore Girls, a fabulous boyfriend and a full life with wonderful friends. However, outside of her job, she was going through the roughest period of her life. After watching her mother painfully succumb to ovarian cancer (after a successful fight with breast cancer six years earlier), she decided to be tested for the breast cancer gene. And it was positive. TVGuide.com sat down with Queller to talk about her drastic decision to have her breasts removed — detailed in her new memoir, Pretty Is What Changes (shop Amazon)— and how life is post-surgery, writing for the CW's hit Gossip Girl.
TVGuide.com: So tell me how this drastic surgery came about.
Jessica Queller: My mother, out of the blue —there was no history of cancer in our family— was diagnosed with an advanced stage of breast cancer at 52 and then beat it. Six years later, the doctors told her she had a supposedly unrelated aggressive form of ovarian cancer. It was absolutely awful. For two years she fought it — she lost all of her hair, which was really hard for her because she was this beautiful, vain fashion designer that really [took stock] in her looks for years. It was just awful and painful, and she passed away after two years.
TVGuide.com: So is that when you were tested?
Queller: I was dealing with losing her and didn't know anything about tests or whatever until later. But then I decided that I should have the test. And then it was positive. I really didn't even know how to process it.
TVGuide.com: How did it affect you at work on Gilmore Girls? Were you even able to concentrate?
Queller: Actually, it was a great escape for me. My life was a mess on the outside, but at work I was able to escape into these great characters. But before and after work, I was obsessed with finding out everything I could about the BRAC mutation.
TVGuide.com: What was the reaction of creators Amy Sherman Palladino and Dan Palladino?
Queller: Amy and Dan and I weren't close. I wasn't going to get a lot of sympathy from Amy…. I always say, the warmer the tone of the show, the meaner the bosses. [When Queller finally told them that she was having the surgery, Sherman-Palladino said, "Can't you just dip your boobs in green tea?"]
TVGuide.com: After doing all the research about your options, why did you choose to have a double mastectomy?
Queller: I wasn't sure that the screening tests, which you have to do every three months, would be an effective way to catch the disease early enough. So, a year after I found out that I had the gene, I had my first surgery.
TVGuide.com: What was your biggest fear or fears of making such a drastic decision?
Queller: Fear itself was the hardest obstacle to get past when I was trying to decide what to do. Fear about what my body would be like. Would I feel deformed? Would my dating life be affected? There were so many questions, but once I got past the fear, I think it was the best decision I've ever made.
Here are some of Jessica's favorite parts of writing for Gossip Girl, her first job since the surgery:
"The actors flew to LA for The Paleyfest and there was a private cocktail party for the cast, writers and producers. Leighton [Meester] was wearing a gorgeous yellow dress, similar to some of the smashing dresses her character Blair wears in the show. In a very GG moment, I hung out with Leighton, gushed about her dress and asked who the designer was. Later I contacted the designer, said I was a GG writer and had a similar dress Fed-Exed to me. (I paid for it, of course, but it's neat to hang out with "Blair Waldorf" in real life, and find out her secret source for pretty dresses.
"The writers on Gossip Girl watch dailies every day at lunch. It's fun to watch all an actor's different takes on a certain scene, and to see scenes in their entirety that may not make it to the final cut due to time or editing. It's also fun to watch the actors mess up their lines, chat in between takes — the human moments that are captured on dailies."
"My friend Lenny, one of the other writers on the show, created the character of the new headmistress in his script and named her after me: Headmistress Queller. It's very fun to have a GG character with my last name. My sister and dad especially love it!"
"I grew up in NYC and as a writer on this show, I'm able to slip some of my favorite NYC places and references into scripts. I spent my early 20s going to Veselka late at night with friends for pierogi, which is where Vanessa and Dan used to hang out. It's gratifying to put those sorts of personal references into scripts and send them out into the world."
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