Terri’s Rare Gem – Rubee
To fans of the afternoon TV drama All My Children, she is known as Simone Torres, the exotically attractive investigative reporter who now touts a cosmetics empire. Quirky and strong-willed, Simone, played by Terri Ivens, has done it all – tracked down a drug lord, had an affair with her best friend’s father, landed in jail on more than one occasion, and even fell in love with classic character Tad (“the cad”) Martin. Ms. Ivens is rightfully credited for contributing to All My Children’s surge in popularity over the past few years.
But when she’s not on the show’s set, Terri Ivens, actress, is known as Terri Ivens, wife, mother, daughter, and – sister. Terri’s personal life has at times been just as gripping, trying and rewarding as any dramatic role she has played – which she attributes to witnessing her sister, Rubee, battle mental illness and, now, cancer too. As Terri explains, Rubee wages this struggle with dignity, grace, compassion and humor – “she is my anchor to the world.”
When Terri was growing up, her father’s job required extensive ongoing travel, so the family was often on the road. Eventually, they settled in Nevada and adopted Rubee, the middle child in the Ivens family.
“When Rubee was adopted at age three, my parents were told she had motor response deficiencies, basically poor hand-eye coordination. So she began attending the local Easter Seals program,” Terri explains. By the first grade, it was recommended that she be held back a year and put in Special Education classes. “Rubee absolutely flourished in those classes,” Terri recalls.
But in her teens, things changed for Rubee. Her parents’ divorce was imminent and, like most families going through a difficult time, there was tension at home. The Ivenses wanted Rubee to be in a more emotionally stable environment during that time frame, so they sent her to live with relatives in Hawaii. That’s when things turned.
“What was meant for the good of Rubee was misunderstood by Rubee. She believed that by her being sent away she was the reason for the family breaking apart,” Terri remembers.
The Ivenses were notified that Rubee had been hospitalized for attempted suicide. Shortly thereafter, at the age of sixteen, she was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Though she and her doctors worked toward regulating her medication to achieve stability, chemical imbalances continued to plague Rubee as she grew into adulthood, at times resulting in frightening hallucinations.
Terri explains that it’s been a painful journey seeing her beautiful sister struggle with a confusing illness. “Even in the midst of Rubee’s most difficult episodes – when we were taking the bathroom door off the hinges to get her out, or when the paramedics were taking her out to the ambulance – she would come to a moment of clarity. Trembling with fear and fighting back the rolling of her eyes she would apologize profusely ‘I’m so sorry, Mom.’ In those moments you feel your heart break.”
As if dealing with the illness weren’t enough, the harder battle has been weaving Rubee through the California healthcare system. “It was hard to find a group home that had other residents with Rubee’s same mental capacity. Either they were not as functional as Rubee or there were safety issues,” Terri explains.
“How I’ve come to understand the way it works in California is that you are tested for qualification into specific programs. If and when you pass, you move up into the next group home. So when Rubee was happy and doing well we actually hoped that she would not pass the test and graduate the program, because that would mean the quest for appropriate housing would begin once again.”
One of those times was in January of 2001. Rubee’s case was falling between the cracks. She would need to fail to qualify for the program that best matched her multifaceted needs; however, she passed. So the search for housing began all over again and that time it was difficult finding a suitable home for her, so Rubee took up residence with Terri in Los Angeles. It was to be no longer than a three-week living arrangement, but it lasted for nearly six months.
“That experience let me see what Rubee goes through on a daily basis. The look from a stranger can be rejecting; and to be overlooked or ignored is frustrating. Rubee has changed my heart,” Terri confides. “ I don’t view the person living on the street as I once did. Rubee reminds me to share a little eye contact and trust that it never hurts anybody to say ‘hello’ and to literally reach out your hand to one less fortunate.”
Today, at long last in a warm, caring, stable group home in the L.A. area, Rubee is facing an additional battle – with breast cancer. She is now in her fifth round of chemotherapy and beginning radiation treatments.
“It’s important to know that Rubee has embraced her cancer – something that has been difficult to do with schizophrenia,” Terri notes. “Rubee proudly sports her shaven head and if anyone stares, she says, ‘Hi, I have cancer – that’s why I’m bald.’ The cancer opens people to her – whereas simply the word ‘schizophrenia’ scares them away.” In a way, Rubee has leveraged cancer to work her way back into a society that had previously misunderstood her.
And despite her dual battle, Rubee’s spunk, tenacity and strength remain an unwavering factor. After one of her recent chemo sessions, she was to stay at her mom’s house to rest and gain strength – but after only a few hours she said, “Mom, can you drop me off at home – there’s a party this weekend and I don’t want to miss it.”
It’s sometimes during the quietest moments when Terri feels she has her true sister Rubee back again – the sister she knew before the schizophrenic episodes. “One of the most touching moments was when I first put my then nine-week old daughter, Kiana, in Rubee’s arms. She was my dear, sweet sister we know as Rubee-doo when she held Kiana close and whispered ‘Let me tell you stories about your Mom.’”
And Terri proudly declares how far Rubee has come and where she is going. “When she was young, if you asked Rubee the standard question ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ her reply wasn’t a child’s normal ‘Fireman’ or ‘Nurse’. Rubee would answer without hesitation, ‘Independent!’” Well she has clearly reached that goal and she’s moving onward. Rubee now talks about wanting to become a chef, “so whenever we’re together I show her what I know about cooking and, like always, she teaches me a few things too.”