As we enter Breast Cancer Awareness month, I have a message for those women who are in the middle of their fight with the disease: I know you feel like you’re in hell now, but your life is about to get a whole lot better.
It’s something I hated hearing right after my surgery when just walking was unbearable, but it’s true. Cancer survivors are blessed with two lives. There is your life before cancer, and your life after. I am here to tell you your second life is going to be so much better than the first.
I never thought that breast cancer would be part of my story. I have always been healthy – watching what I eat and working out every day – and there is no history of cancer in my family. But about a year and a half ago, my gynecologist discovered a lump in my breast during a routine checkup.
I was devastated. I was also determined to beat it, and so was the incredible support system around me.
With my sister Hala, my mom Sami, my brother Adel and countless friends behind me (couldn't have done it without them!), I underwent a mastectomy and reconstructive surgery in March 2007. And a funny thing happened as my body started to heal — my mind did as well. The world just suddenly snapped into focus. Everything that was important became totally clear, and so did the negative parts of my life that I needed to let go of if I wanted to follow my new mantra — go forward…Forward. Forward. Forward.
Staring down the scariest thing that could have happened to me gave me the strength to take on new challenges I didn’t have the courage to tackle past. When I got back to work, one of the first things I did was walk into my bosses' offices — NBC News president Steve Capus and NBC Universal president and CEO Jeff Zucker — to tell them I wanted to be TODAY’s fourth-hour co-host. Before cancer, I don't think I had the confidence to fight for the position, but now here I am now, living my dream job with Kathie Lee every morning. It’s funny when I think how I owe my job, in part, to cancer.
One of the opportunities I’ve had in my new role on TODAY is the ability to share my journey with the audience. As a journalist, taking my personal life public was a tough thing to do, but the response I’ve gotten has made me so glad I found the courage to open up. More often than you would think, people come up to me on the streets of New York and, without a word, just give me a hug. Nine times out of 10, that person has had breast cancer or knows someone who has.
My position also let’s me bring awareness to this horrible disease, and attention on the desperate need for a cure. It blows my mind that in 2008 our answer to breast cancer is still lobbing off body parts and essentially setting off a bomb on a person’s insides. It’s my hope we’ll find a cure in my lifetime, and bringing you stories like Dr. Susan Love’s Army of Women, as well as the stories we’ll highlight throughout the month of October, is a step in the right direction.
It would be wrong to paint everything about breast cancer in a positive light. There are times wearing or new dress or at the beach in a bathing suit and I look down and I think, “That’s not me. I’m not whole.” Rationally I know that I am not my body, but I still struggle with those physical insecurities. And perhaps that hardest part of this process is knowing that cancer has robbed me of the chance to be a biological mother. The medication I take every day to kill the stray cancer cell that may be swimming in my blood stream essentially shuts down my reproductive system. That is really tough.
Still, the most surprising side effects of cancer is that it has given me more courage than I ever thought possible. My life after cancer is more courageous and more honest and fuller than my life before.
So to the woman with cancer who is in her bed right now and feeling so sick she doesn’t want to even think about getting out of bed, I know how you’re feeling. And take it from me, I know going forward it’s going to bet getter. God gave me a second chance, and yours is about to start. Welcome to the sisterhood of breast cancer survivors. There’s not a stronger, prouder or more determined group of women out there.