LEWISTON — In the commercial, Erica Lacasse was supposed to hug American Airlines Capt. John Biegel. She knew it. They’d practiced.

Turn. Smile. Embrace.

Then, during the third or fourth take, she turned, smiled and found herself face to face with movie star Bradley Cooper.

Forget Capt. John Biegel.

“I just turned around and hugged Bradley. I just went right for it,” Lacasse said with a laugh. “They got it on film and used it in the commercial.”

The commercial, which promotes American Airlines’ June campaign to raise money for cancer research, began airing nationwide Thursday and will run through the month.

Lacasse, who lives in Lewiston and is a customer service agent for American Airlines at the Portland International Jetport, is one of just six American Airlines employees prominently featured in the fundraising commercial. 

At 28, she is battling cancer.

“Cancer does not discriminate. I thought it would never happen to me,” said Lacasse, who was diagnosed with breast cancer last October at age 27. “No one is ever too young to develop cancer.”

Lacasse found a lump during a self exam last year. The lump was removed and doctors thought that might be all she’d have to do, but a test showed her type of cancer had higher recurrence rate than doctors were comfortable with. She went through four rounds of chemotherapy from January to March.

In between, Lacasse and her fiance joined a contest to win their dream wedding. Her American Airlines co-workers shared the news of the contest and, at the same time, news of her cancer. The airline happened to be looking for employees to participate in the upcoming commercial and asked Lacasse if she’d like to be part of it. 

The commercial promotes American Airlines’ campaign for Stand Up To Cancer, a nonprofit group that raises money for cancer research. During June, the airline will donate $1 for every flight purchased on aa.com — up to $1 million.

Cooper is Stand Up To Cancer’s celebrity ambassador. 

Lacasse’s fiance knew she was a fan.

“He was like, ‘Make sure he sees the ring on your finger,'” she said. “I was like, ‘Don’t worry.'”

In April, two weeks after her last chemotherapy treatment, Lacasse flew to Los Angeles. In a hangar at LAX, she and dozens of others spent the day filming. More than 50 people were in the background, all of them cancer patients, cancer survivors or family members of people with cancer.

Lacasse was chosen to be one of the six employees front and center, including Biegel, an American Airlines captain and the focus of the commercial.

In her airline uniform dress, a colorful scarf around her neck and head bald, she did take after take. Participants knew Cooper was scheduled to show, but they didn’t know when. 

Then, suddenly, he was there. Lacasse knew him on sight.

And went for it.

“It was so fun,” she said of the hug. “He’s so nice and amazing. He was just so down to earth and so eager to learn about our story and just so humble around us. It was very empowering to be there.”

Although Lacasse didn’t get much time to talk with Cooper one-on-one, she got something better.

“He kissed me on the cheek when he left,” she said. “That was cool, too.”

The one-minute commercial shows the hug, but not the kiss.

Lacasse isn’t done with her cancer yet. She got a double mastectomy in May. In the fall she’ll get reconstructive surgery and then more chemo.

She made friends with some of the others in the commercial, people who had their own cancer journey. She plans to stay in touch.

Meeting Cooper was fun, she said. Meeting others with cancer was “absolutely amazing.”

“It was so great to meet so many other people who have gone through or are going through the same thing that I’m going through,” she said. “It’s just reassuring that there is life after cancer.”

[email protected]

Attending the filming of an American Airlines commercial for Stand Up to Cancer are, from left, Dondie Risinger, Denver-based reservations agent; David Mansker, Los Angeles-based technical crew chief aircraft maintenance; Katherin Samiljan, Philadelphia-based flight attendant; actor Bradley Cooper; John Biegel, Los Angeles-based captain; Erica Lacasse, Portland-based customer service agent; and Steven Goff, Phoenix-based fleet service crew chief.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.