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Exclusive: Katie Couric on telling daughters she has breast cancer: ‘Hard to deliver that news’

The former TODAY co-anchor joined us live to open up about her treatment plan, her family’s support and the importance of screenings.
/ Source: TODAY

Katie Couric is speaking out about her breast cancer diagnosis.

The former TODAY co-anchor revealed in September she has breast cancer and then underwent a lumpectomy.

“I’m feeling just fine,” Couric told Hoda Kotb and Savannah Guthrie on TODAY on Oct. 3. “I finished radiation last week. They said it makes you tired. I was actually not too tired from it.”

Couric said she was six months late getting her mammogram, but still considers herself fortunate.

“I just feel super lucky that it was diagnosed when it was, that I went, even though I was late, that I went when I did,” she said.

Couric also said her radiologist made sure to act quickly after she saw something on her breast.

“She said, ‘I think there’s something we really need to biopsy and I want to do it today.’ So I thought, ‘Oh my, God, you must be kidding me,’” she said. “And then when I found out the next day, she called me. I was pretty stunned, and I think those words ‘it’s cancerous’ or ‘you have cancer’ do stop you in their tracks, but she told me it was treatable. We needed to have a plan.”

Couric, 65, was diagnosed with stage 1A breast cancer, which is the earliest stage where the tumor is less than 2 centimeters in size and has most likely not spread to the lymph nodes.

Couric's first husband, Jay Monahan, died from colon cancer in 1998, and that experience prompted her to encourage people to undergo colonoscopies. She says having to tell their daughters, Ellie, 31, and Caroline, 26, about her own diagnosis was not easy.

"I was nervous about it. I waited a few days so I could process it and really understand what we were dealing with," she said.

"I told them, but I was very reassuring," she added. "But I saw on their faces, you know, it's just hard to deliver that news, no matter how you do it. But I assured them that I was going to be fine. And Carrie came with me when I got my lumpectomy, when I was being wheeled into the operating room. She was singing 'The Arms of an Angel.' She's so funny. ... They've been incredibly supportive."

Couric first shared how her daughters reacted to the news in an essay published on her website on Sept. 28.

"I didn’t want to call Ellie and Carrie until I had a better idea of my prognosis," she wrote. "Finally, four days after I was diagnosed, I FaceTimed each of them. I tried to be as reassuring as (my doctor). Their faces froze in disbelief. Then shock. Then they began to cry. 'Don’t worry,' I told Carrie then Ellie, 'I’m going to be fine,' trying to convince myself as well as them. They’d already lost one parent. The idea of losing another was unfathomable."

Couric also said her daughter Ellie has already undergone genetic testing to assess her cancer risk.

"It really is a great tool to help you understand what you need to do vis-à-vis screening and how often you need to do it," she said. "And you should be having a conversation with your health care provider about breast cancer as early as 25 just to start the conversation."

Couric also emphasized the importance of women advocating "for their own health," while discussing dense breasts and how 40 to 50% of American woman between age 40 and 74, including Couric, have them. Dense breasts increase breast cancer risk and might necessitate additional screening.

"(Whether your breasts are dense) is not something you can tell by feeling your breasts, if your breasts are lumpy," Couric said. "You have to ask your radiologists, or your radiologist, ideally, should be telling you, 'You have dense breasts,' and then you often need secondary screening. So, my radiologist compared it to trying to find snow balls in a field of snow."

Couric remains appreciative that her diagnosis came early.

"(I'm) just so grateful that they caught it early enough so it could be treated," she said.