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Video: Fawcett’s friend: 'Maybe we were in denial’

TODAY contributor
updated 8/11/2009 10:04:44 AM ET 2009-08-11T14:04:44

They were a couple of Texas girls who went to Hollywood and eventually became the kind of friends who could stare death in the face and refuse to blink. And though Farrah Fawcett lost her brave battle with cancer, her friend Alana Stewart has memorialized Fawcett’s courage and their friendship during the star’s last years.

Even as the cancer that would take her life on June 25 was ravaging Fawcett’s body, both she and Stewart always felt that there was a miracle waiting in the wings, Stewart told TODAY’s Meredith Vieira Tuesday in New York.

Triumph, not tragedy
Stewart is following her NBC documentary “Farrah’s Story” with a book, “My Journey With Farrah: A Story of Life, Love, and Friendship.” The book was Fawcett’s idea, and grew out of diaries that Stewart kept as she became Fawcett’s constant companion during her battle with cancer.

“I wanted the book to be an extension of the documentary, but I also wanted it to be a tribute to friendship, to our friendship. To everyone’s friendship,” Stewart said.

It is also a tribute to Fawcett’s courage, faith and sense of humor. It is not always pretty. Stewart writes, for example, about the time Fawcett vomited 75 times in 12 hours. But it is a story of triumph, not tragedy.

In a second TODAY interview with Ann Curry, Stewart also revealed that Fawcett’s son, Redmond O’Neal, who is in jail on drug charges, promised his mother in a phone call from her death bed that he would never do drugs again.

Stewart told Vieira about the hope of recovery that both friends shared to the end.

“We believed it. We both believed it. Maybe we were in denial,” Stewart said. “We were like these two little tough Texas girls that were just not going to give up. She was incredibly resilient and very determined, and so was I. We just refused to believe there was going to be any outcome except a good one. We talked about it once, and that is how we both felt.”

‘I still had faith’
Toward the end, when it was increasingly clear the anal cancer that Fawcett was diagnosed with in 2006 was consuming her, Stewart said she realized she didn’t know how to talk to a person about dying.

Stewart always felt Fawcett would somehow pull through. “To the very end, I still had faith. I still kept believing that some miracle was going to come along and that she was going to rally again because she had so many times before,” she said.

But the reality remained that Fawcett was desperately ill, and Stewart had no idea how to react.

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“I just concluded that I just needed to be there, because I really didn’t know what to say,” she told Vieira. “I could tell sometimes she was frightened. I didn’t know whether to address it and say, ‘No, c’mon, you’re going to make it,’ or just step back and let her make her decision if she wanted to keep fighting or not. I was very confused at that point. I stopped writing at that point. I did not want to describe her dying.”

Video: Stewart: Fawcett’s son ‘doing so well’ Stewart writes that she could not go through what her friend did and remains in awe of Fawcett’s courage and fighting spirit.

“I saw her go through such suffering. I think anyone who goes through a struggle with a disease like that is a hero in my book. I saw it up close and personal with her. I was there, and I have never had more respect and admiration for anyone, for her courage and her spirit,” Stewart told Vieira.

Two Texas gals
“Farrah’s Story” had begun when Fawcett told Stewart to start filming her life, including the moment she was diagnosed with cancer in 2006. The idea for the book was born the following year, when Fawcett was pursuing experimental treatment in Germany.

“I went to a gift shop and I bought this gift, this book, for Farrah. It was in German, but it was about friendship, and it was about two women friends and their journey through life together,” Stewart said.

“There were a lot of pictures. I brought it back to the clinic and she looked at it and said, ‘You know, you should do a book like this about us.’ ”

Video: Inside Farrah and Ryan’s relationship It seemed like a natural thing for Stewart to do. “I had been keeping journals since I was 9 years old. I’ve always kept journals to get my feelings out,” she said. “I was actually at some point going to do a memoir. I used to read Farrah some of my diaries at the clinic, and she just loved it. She said, ‘You have to do something with these, it’s just beautiful.’ ”

Stewart, 64, was born Alana Collins in San Diego, but grew up in Nacogdoches, Texas. She began her career as a model and moved to film and television. She was married twice, first to actor George Hamilton and then to rock star Rod Stewart.

Stewart and Fawcett became friends some 30 years ago, drawn together by their Texas roots.

“We first met when we were both out in California doing commercials, but we didn’t become good friends then,” she said. “It was years later that we met, and I was pregnant with my daughter, Kimberly. She was with Ryan and I was with Rod, and we met at a dinner party. We kind of struck it off immediately, but we slowly became friends. She was working. I was having babies. But we continued to see each other and our friendship grew over the years.”

Laughter and tears
When they began their documentary, Stewart wanted to avoid some of the less pleasant details, but Fawcett insisted that everything be included. Stewart took the same approach with the book.

Video: Ryan O’Neal on Fawcett’s final hours “She wasn’t going to sugarcoat it, she was going to do the real thing,” Stewart said. “There were times I didn’t want to film her because it felt too invasive, when she was really sick. She said, ‘No, film it because this is what cancer’s like. I want people to see this.’ ”

Through it all, Fawcett never stopped laughing.

“I think that one of the things that kept her going was her humor,” Stewart said. “She would find something funny in every situation, and so would I. We had a similar humor. So we would laugh about the craziest things. We would find some nurse that made us laugh, or a doctor or something that had happened. We always found something to laugh about.”

Stewart became emotional when talking about the very end, fighting back tears as she spoke about saying goodbye to her friend.

“I told her how much I loved her and that she was like a sister to me,” Stewart told Vieira. “She looked up at me and said, ‘More than a sister.’ ”

Redmond’s farewell vow
With Curry, Stewart described Redmond O’Neal’s last conversation with his mother. Video: O’Neal on Fawcett: ‘She’s the rock’

“I think she just wished for him to have a happy, normal life,” Stewart said. “The good news is that he is doing so well. He feels his mother is with him. He feels her presence very strongly. He promised her in a phone call just before she died he would never do drugs again.”

One of the things Stewart and Fawcett loved to do together was bake pies during the holiday season. Fawcett would always make the crusts, something she was great at and Stewart was not.

Vieira asked what it would be like making pies this year without Farrah to form those perfect crusts.

“I try not to think about it too much,” Stewart said, her eyes tearing up. “I don’t know how I’ll be able to face making those pies alone. They’ll have lousy crust, that’s for sure.”

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