The last year has been a life changing one for "Good Morning America" anchor Robin Roberts. She successfully battled breast cancer and returned to her spot on the Emmy-winning morning show.
Before her diagnosis, Roberts had "Seven Rules to Live By," but now she has eight. Read an excerpt from her book "From the Heart: Eight Rules to Live By" below or click here to read her personal essay.
Chapter 8Make Your Mess Your Message
…when I said: "Isn't it wonderful how life can surprise you?" I never thought I'd write a book, but I did. And I never thought I would be diagnosed with breast cancer. But that's exactly what happened just a few months after the release of the book.
I was enjoying my summer. Traveling around the country meeting folks and asking them their rules to live by. I was about to leave for a rare two-week vacation when my beloved colleague and friend, Joel Siegel, lost his battle with colon cancer. I delayed my trip so I could attend Joel's funeral. It was a beautiful service, filled with wonderful stories of Joel's strength and courage. We also laughed a lot. Joel had a terrific sense of humor, and the laughter soothed our broken hearts.
Right after the service I headed to Key West to begin my vacation with dear friends. It was a delightful week full of sun and plenty of fun, but Joel was never far from my mind. We decided to have a tribute show for him on Good Morning America a week after his passing. I had hopped out to San Diego to deliver a commencement address, so I caught a red-eye and flew back overnight so I could be there.
Many of our former colleagues joined Diane and me to remember Joel. Former GMA hosts David Hartman and Joan Lunden were there, along with former GMA weatherman Spencer Christian, and, of course, Charlie Gibson. They had all worked with Joel and become good friends over the years. I did a piece about Joel's courageous battle with colon cancer, including his own reflections, taped when he was alive. Joel spoke about how hard it was to hear from his doctor that if he had gotten a colonoscopy at the age of fifty instead of fifty-three, the outcome might have been different. As he fought his own illness, Joel made it his mission to encourage people to have regular cancer screenings.
After the show, I lingered to talk with our medical editor, Dr. Tim Johnson. I was angry that cancer had taken Joel. "How many people have to die before we do something about this awful disease?" I demanded. "So much money has been invested in fighting cancer, so much time has been spent—but where do we stand?" I wanted answers. Tim assured me that great and significant medical advances were being made, but that we also had to do our part. We must be diligent when it comes to our own health care, especially screening for early detection. I knew he was right, but to tell you the truth, it didn't really hit home.
That very night I discovered something that would change my life. I had driven to Connecticut to resume the last week of my vacation. Exhausted from my all-night flight and the emotional drain of the show, I fell asleep on the couch. I woke up much later and sleepily started changing into my pj's. And then I stopped. I felt a lump in my right breast. I immediately assumed that it was probably a pulled muscle from my awkward position on the couch.
The next morning I woke up and immediately gave myself a breast self-exam. The lump was still there. For a moment I froze. What should I do? I didn't really have a family doctor. I e mailed Diane and asked her if she could recommend someone. I also reached out to my colleague and friend, Deborah Roberts. She referred me to a doctor who agreed to see me when I returned to New York the following week. I tried my best to enjoy the remainder of my vacation, but Joel was really resonating in my heart now. I kept thinking about his message of early detection.
Monday morning, July 16, I was back on the air at GMA. That afternoon I went to Dr. Albert Knapp for a general checkup. Now, here's the crazy part. I didn't mention the lump. Maybe I thought if I didn't tell him about it, it wouldn't exist. Dr. Knapp gave me an examination and took my family history. He had a warm, easygoing nature that put me at ease. I felt as if I'd been going to him for years. But no mention of a lump, and why would there be since I hadn't mentioned my concern to him?
However, just as Dr. Knapp was about to leave the examining room, I stopped him. "Dr. Knapp, before you go, could you please check out this lump I have? I'm sure it's nothing." My voice was shaking.
Unbelievable—I'd almost chickened out! Here I was, doing the right thing, being diligent about my health care, but I had to force myself to speak up. I guess that sometimes the unknown is less fearful than the known—or at least it feels that way.
Dr. Knapp gave me a breast exam and felt the lump. He immediately ordered a mammogram and an ultrasound. I walked a couple of blocks to the radiology center. Luckily, it was the end of the day and they told me if I could wait they would squeeze me in. I've heard countless stories of others having to wait months for a routine mammogram. But I'm told if you have a lump, most places around the country will make an exception and see you in a more timely fashion. Remember what I said earlier about being patient and persistent. That is especially true when it comes to your health.
My mammogram came back normal. It was fortunate that Dr. Knapp had also ordered the ultrasound. As the technician was performing it, Dr. Mona Darwish, the attending physician, watched the screen. Dr. Darwish had an extensive background in breast cancer work, and her trained eye picked up a tumor that had not been detected with the mammogram. I later learned that is quite common to get a clean mammogram but discover a tumor on the ultrasound. This is especially true for young women whose denser breast tissue makes it harder to detect abnormalities. It is recommended that younger women and those with a high risk for breast cancer have ultrasounds. Of course, I see the wisdom of that now.