“Gloria Vanderbilt died as she lived: on her own terms.”
These were the words with which CNN anchor Anderson Cooper addressed the death of his mother, Gloria Vanderbilt, during a heartfelt video tribute shared on CNN this morning. Vanderbilt was 95 when she died today, and Cooper shared that the cause was advanced stomach cancer, diagnosed just this month.
Gloria Vanderbilt dies at the age of 95.Read MoreThe American artist, fashion designer, and heiress was the mother to @CNN‘s @AndersonCooper.https://t.co/vOMShEabdd pic.twitter.com/bpUDUxTByY
— Anderson Cooper 360° (@AC360) June 17, 2019
At one point in the video (5:17 in the Tweeted clip, above), Cooper shares an intimate moment in which his mother, seen lying in her hospital bed, laughs at a joke, and Cooper beginnings laughing with her.
“I never knew we had the same giggle,” Cooper later tweeted.
As the great-great-granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt, one of the wealthiest men in the country’s history, Vanderbilt was an heiress to a great fortune. She lived her life in the public eye, beginning in her childhood, when she was the center of a heavily publicized custody battle that went all the way to the Supreme Court, ultimately determining her mother, Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt, was not fit to raise her daughter, and awarding custody of Gloria to her aunt, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, founder of the Whitney Museum of American Art.
Vanderbilt was a painter and fashion designer who became famous for her Vanderbilt jean brand in the 1980s. She also modeled and authored numerous memoirs and novels. She was married four times—to a movie producer, an orchestra conductor, a director, and ultimately, Anderson Cooper’s father, writer Wyatt Cooper.
“She was always in love,” Cooper said of his mother. “Love is what she believed in more than anything.”
Vanderbilt did struggle with the pressure of the spotlight at times in her life, especially in 1988, when her son and Anderson Cooper’s brother, Carter Vanderbilt Cooper, took his life at age 23.
Anderson Cooper knew that the world was fascinated with the public face of his mother, but he held that “her private self was more fascinating and more lovely than anything she showed the public.”
Vanderbilt learned she had advanced stomach cancer after being rushed to the hospital earlier this month.
“When the doctor told her she had cancer, she was silent for a while,” Cooper recounted. “Then she said, ‘Well, it’s like that old song. Show me the way to get out of this world, cause that’s where everything is.’”
Advanced Stomach Cancer
Cooper did not share the specifics of his mother’s cancer type and course of treatment beyond the fact that it was advanced stomach cancer that had spread.
If diagnosed at an early stage, stomach cancer is very treatable (with a five-year-survival rate of around 68 percent), and its treatment usually involves a combination of surgery and chemotherapy. When diagnosed at later stages, however, especially stage IV, at which the stomach cancer has spread to distant sites in the body, stomach cancer becomes much more difficult to treat and is usually considered incurable.
At advanced stages, surgery and chemotherapy are unlikely to cure the cancer, but they may be given to alleviate symptoms and keep the cancer from spreading further. Depending on the individual characteristics of the cancer, several other therapies might be an option, too. For HER2-positive cancers, for instance, the hormone therapy Herceptin (trastuzumab) may be given, and for some stomach cancers, the immunotherapy drug Keytruda (pembrolizumab) may be given as well.
But while it is unclear if, at age 95, Gloria Vanderbilt was treated in any of these ways, Dr. Elizabeth Jewell, a gynecologic oncologist and surgeon at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, previously told SurvivorNet that a patients’ age can affect their eligibility for surgery, since it may be dangerous to give elderly patients anesthesia.
But treatment or no treatment, we do know that Gloria Vanderbilt died comfortably in her own home and that ultimately, she was ready to go.
“I know she had been hoping for a little more time,” Cooper said. “A few days or weeks at least. There were paintings she wanted to make, more books she wanted to read, more dreams to dream. But she was ready; she was ready to go. She spent a lot of time alone in her head in her life, but when the end came, she was not alone. She was surrounded by beauty and by family and friends.”