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She moved back to New Orleans following her high school graduation in 1976; only a year or two later did she finally tell her mother.“Of course she was shocked and upset and she was going to leave him,” says De Generes. She didn’t want to believe it.” Says Betty: “There aren’t any words to describe it. The amazing thing was that Ellen was able to be understanding in my process.

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“The fact is that it was a horrible situation for me, and to not know anything about my body at 16 years old, to be raised a Christian Scientist, to not know that everybody’s breasts are different, and this man is telling me he needs to feel it because he thinks he found another lump in my mother’s breast. I wasn’t educated.” The day after the incident, De Generes told her best friend’s mother what had happened.

“She said, ‘Don’t tell your mother because it’s just going to upset her.’ So I didn’t tell.” De Generes says the abuse continued on and off.

Although their 15-year age gap rarely comes up—”I forget how old I am,” says the comedian—when it comes to starting a family, “that’s the only time I think about age; I think we should do it soon.

Poor kid, ‘Mama’s going to break her hip again if you don’t move those toys! [But] it’s a big responsibility.” The same could be said for her high-energy show, which films four days a week in L. “It’s the hardest job I’ve ever had, but it’s the most satisfaction I’ve ever had, so I’m sure it’s like being a mother,” says De Generes.

(Her brother Vance, 51, now a producer, and dad Elliott, 80, a retired salesman, remained in Louisiana.) When she was 16, De Generes says, she was molested by her mother’s second husband after Betty had undergone surgery for breast cancer.