Good Morning America's Amy Robach got the shock of her life in November 2013 when she was diagnosed as one of the 1-in-8 women in America who will be affected by breast cancer in their lifetimes. She has confronted her diagnosis of breast cancer by speaking out in support of others facing the disease.
Q: You discovered your breast cancer in an unusually public way. Would you tell us about that?
A: I was asked by Good Morning America producers to have the first-ever mammogram on live television to raise awareness for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I was very hesitant at first, because I was just 40, had no family history of the disease, and felt uncomfortable doing something so private, so publicly!
I was convinced when producers and my colleague, Robin Roberts, told me they were trying to reach women just like me — women who thought they couldn't have breast cancer. I'll never forget Robin saying to me "If you save one life because of early detection, it's completely worth the sacrifice." I just had no idea then that I would be saving my own life!
Q: What were your first thoughts when you received the diagnosis?
A: I was in complete shock. I went back in for some follow-up images after the initial mammogram, never thinking just a few hours later I would have a cancer diagnosis. No one is ever prepared to hear those words … I was alone and in a state of disbelief. I've never been so scared, so devastated in my entire life.
Q: You've said that if it wasn't for your co-worker Robin Roberts, herself a breast cancer survivor, you may not have gotten your screening mammogram. What is your message to other women about the importance of screening? Especially younger working women?
A: I've learned that if you're a woman, and you're getting older, you're at risk for breast cancer. More than 80 percent of breast cancer patients have zero family history. I had no knowledge of that statistic until I became a part of it. Mammograms aren't perfect, but they're what we've got, and a mammogram saved my life. I felt completely healthy, I felt invincible … all the while I had two malignant tumors in me, and the cancer had already spread to one of my lymph nodes. Women have to realize that ignorance is not bliss when it comes to cancer. Get screened. Every year. No excuses.
Q: Can you tell us about your course of treatment and how that has gone so far?
A: I had a bilateral mastectomy, where my surgeon found a second, hidden, malignant tumor, and further testing showed my left breast had a number of pre-cancerous cells developing. Because of my age and the fact that the cancer had spread to my sentinel lymph node, my oncologist felt the responsible next step was eight rounds of chemotherapy. After seven months of expanders in my breasts, I just had reconstructive surgery with implants. Now I begin 10 years of tamoxifen, starting at the end of June. The mental battle will always be with me, and I will never take my health for granted again. Not ever.
Q: What message do you have for others who have been diagnosed with breast cancer?
A: Know that you're not alone. There are nearly 2 million breast cancer survivors in this country, and we are thriving, excelling, living. Yes, it is a hellish journey through surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation, and drug therapy. But you will emerge a better person. I promise. You are stronger than you think, and you will find your inner warrior. Your family and friends will marvel at your strength, and they will weep with you on those days when you just don't want to get out of bed. It gets easier, and after this, there's nothing you can't do!
Q: We know your family and friends have been very important to your success so far. What has been most helpful to you in the support you have received?
A: Support is everything. No one can do this alone. Every smile, every hug, every kind word, message, letter has had a tremendous impact on my will to keep going. I simply do not have the words to thank everyone who has been there for me in both little and big ways. Collectively, they have kept me in fighting mode and carried me through the toughest time in my life. I am eternally grateful and hope to pay it forward in every way possible. Fight like a girl!!!!
The statements and opinions in this interview are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office on Women's Health.
Ed. note: This interview is cross-posted from NIH MedlinePlus the magazine. The interview appeared in the summer 2014 issue. Read the original interview.