When Diane Sawyer received Oprah's assignment, she knew just the woman to choose—Cynthia O'Neal! Cynthia took New York by storm decades ago as a fashion model. Her life was full of adventure, fun and friends. However, in the late '80s, the fun came to a stop. The AIDS crisis began taking the lives of her close friends one by one, and Cynthia knew she had to do something.
That's when Cynthia and Diane's husband, Mike Nichols, opened the doors to Friends In Deed*, an organization that helps support people who have just learned that they have life-threatening illnesses.
"They know the moment they arrive [at Friends In Deed] they will never be in a hospital bed alone," Diane says. "They will never be without someone to lean on or call in the middle of the night. And that's what Cynthia has done, and so many of these people have no other family but Cynthia and Friends In Deed."
Mary Beth, a member of Friends In Deed, joined the organization after finding out that she had a life-threatening brain tumor. Mary Beth is terrified by the possibility of chemo and radiation treatments, but she won't have to go through treatment alone. Cynthia has been by her side since she started coming to Friends In Deed, even accompanying her to doctors' appointments and frequently reminding her that she has the power to choose whether or not to undergo treatment.
"Friends In Deed hasn't ever been about death," Cynthia says. "Friends In Deed has always been about quality of life. How can we make this day the most valuable, rich, wonderful day it can possibly be with whatever it is you have to work with? That's always our focus. I look at it entirely as a blessing, being included in the lives of people who are absolutely magnificent—the courage, the honesty."