"But we always made a deal, we would be truthful," she says. "We could have made up a story, 'Bill and I just don't want kids at this time.' "

Her commitment to openness was tested "times 100" when, as part of the IVF treatments, a doctor sent Giuliana for a mammogram and she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She went public in October, announcing it on the "Today" show.

After a double mastectomy in December, she made it back to four weeks later in time to cover the kickoff of the year's awards season, the Golden Globes.

"That was a goal," she said. "If I made my goal, I knew I would be in a much better place. I remember waking up that morning of the Golden Globes and telling my husband, it really is four weeks. By having a goal, it helped me recover better and more quickly. It helps accelerate it."

Rancic was her usual glam self on the red carpet, even switching from a black lace gown to a paler confection at one point. Stylist-dream thin, with huge, expressive eyes and a wide smile, she was entirely in her element bantering with the arriving celebs like her admitted favorite man in Hollywood, George Clooney, and his girlfriend, Stacy Keibler.

Both on the air and in an interview with The Sun, she lavished praise on Keibler, a Baltimore native whom she's met at several events in Los Angeles.

"She sent me flowers and a nice note," Rancic said, touched by Keibler's kind gesture during her recovery. "Girls need to stick together, no matter if it's in high school or Hollywood."

Although her recovery was "difficult and pretty horrendous at times," Rancic says she is on the mend. "Every day I turn a corner. So far, so good. I'm very lucky," she said. "Time heals all wounds. For me, it was all about taking it day by day."

At a time when celebrity coverage is about 10 percent reporting and 90 percent snark, there is still the vestige of a starry-eyed girl in Rancic, who says she grew up loving "all things Hollywood." Not that everyone loves being asked about their gowns and gems — some are Very Serious Actors, dontcha know — but Rancic takes it in stride.

"There are two kinds of people in Hollywood," she said. "There are those still on Planet Earth, and those that have checked out. I won't say who they are, but you can't even get across to them. Their egos have taken over."

But on air, her affect is generally more fond than mean; she celebrates rather than sneers. Maybe it's part of some sort of celebrity golden rule, mock not lest you be mocked yourself.

"Being on 'Fashion Police,' you have to watch your step," she says of her own wardrobe. "Kelly Osbourne and I were talking the other day," she said, referring to her fellow style cop, "since we're fashion critics, they're not as forgiving."

Rancic is not one to bemoan loss of privacy, not when she so eagerly has embraced the world of celebrity. She considers it a "platform," from which she can convey messages about infertility and cancer — a platform, incidentally, that she was denied after a couple of failed shots at the Miss Maryland title during her younger days.

"I did awful," she says with a laugh about a time when she flubbed a question. "I was trying to say I wanted access to reach out to young women, and instead I said something like I wanted a key to the city. I completely bumbled, and everyone was like, what?"

The DePandis moved from Naples to the Washington area in 1980, having previously enjoyed visits with a relative there, and Giuliana was the first of the clan to pick up English, her father said.

"When we would go to the grocery, she would translate for her," said DePandi, whose custom clients at his shop, Bruno Cipriani, range from Placido Domingo to the Washington Capitals' play-by-play man, Joe Beninati. "She has always been very friendly, very open. She has a good heart."

Rancic said she is heartened by the warm response she's received since going public with her struggles, from friends and strangers alike. She has a full year ahead, with a restaurant, RPM, that she and Bill have been planning to open in Chicago, as well as their usual full complement of TV shows and appearance.

In sickness and in health, they are a true partnership, she says.

"It's very easy after a few years in a marriage to check out," she says. "The key is to be together as much as possible. I love hiking, so he hikes with me. More than anything you have to always remember year after year: we're a team

"Our goal is to be together when we're old and gray, maybe in rocking chairs," she said. "Maybe it'll be here, or Chicago, or maybe Maryland."

jean.marbella@baltsun.com

Giuliana Rancic on Maryland's leading ladies

Stacy Keibler: "She's a sweetheart. She's such a nice girl. She leads her life in a very respectful way, she's a nice, honorable woman." (On whether she'll be the one who finally gets George Clooney to settle down:) "Who knows? I hope the best for them."

Julie Bowen: "I'm obsessed with Julie Bowen! Julie Bowen is still a regular, cool girl. She's that funny girl you want to hang out with, get a drink, go shopping. Hollywood has not changed her at all. She is so nice."

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