When a producer first asked broadcast journalist Amy Robach to go through the first live mammogram in front of 5 million people on national TV, she laughed and said “absolutely not.”
Robach, now an anchor on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” told the audience in a speech Monday night at The State Theatre that she felt it would be disingenuous because she was healthy, had no family history of breast cancer and knew medical experts weren’t recommending mammograms for women her age — 40 at the time.
She changed her mind after talking to her ABC News colleague and cancer survivor Robin Roberts, who guaranteed Robach would save at least one life by undergoing something so physically and emotionally uncomfortable to promote awareness about the importance of the cancer-screening procedure.
“Never did it cross my mind that I should be nervous about what the radiologist might find,” Robach said in sharing the story of her cancer journey as part of HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital’s Monsignor Klimek Healing Presence lecture series.
Less than two weeks after the nationally broadcast procedure in 2013, Robach got a stunning diagnosis: She had breast cancer.
Robach made it her mission to share her message about the importance of mammograms with every woman she could.
“I had no idea that the first life I’d save would be my own,” Robach said, sharing that she believes she owes her life to Roberts and the producer for getting her to do that public mammogram.
Going through that most personal experience in a very public way ended up being a godsend for Robach because she received so much support and inspiration from friends and viewers and also heard from many women that her journey had prompted them to get a mammogram that led to early cancer detection that may have saved their lives — just as Roberts had predicted.
As she was going through the pain and anxiety associated with eight rounds of chemotherapy and a double masectomy, Robach said her public profile buoyed her.
“I remember what kept me going was knowing there were other women out there going through the same thing and watching me,” she said.
Some critics took shots at Robach for putting so much emphasis on mammograms, which some believe can be overused and add to medical expenses and others believe take away from the emphasis on finding a cure for breast cancer. But Robach is unapologetic and told audience members they should feel free to make their own decision about when they want to get a mammogram.
Robach also shared several life lessons she learned during her struggle with cancer.
• Don’t be too proud to accept help from others at a time when you’re weak and vulnerable.
“It made me stronger in so many ways to let other people do things I couldn’t do at the moment,” she said.
• Share your stories.
As Roberts told Robach, “Make your mess your message.” Robach since has seen that good can come when people talk about the adversity they face.
• Don’t complain about getting older or the effects that come with it.
Robach told the story of a woman who complained to her about getting wrinkles and said she realized that could have been her — before cancer. But after her diagnosis, Robach insisted she doesn’t take even the little things in life for granted.
“To age is to be given a gift,” she said.
• Take care of your body.
After undergoing chemo, Robach said she started watching what she eats and exercising six times a week. As a result, she said she has never had more energy or felt better.
• Make every moment count.
This life-changing attitude adjustment is one of what she called the “tremendous gifts” that came from fighting for her life.
Now she celebrates birthdays “like you wouldn’t believe” and has chosen to spend her money on experiences — especially seeing the world with her family.
“Maybe I will be able to travel with them when I’m 80, but I don’t know,” Robach said.
Ann Kaiser, director of the HSHS Sacred Heart Foundation, said the genuine spirit and transparency of Robach’s message makes it very relatable to the public.
Barb Powers of Chippewa Falls said Robach’s messages of being grateful to others and thankful for every day resonated with her, as well as her discussion about the importance of early detection.
The speech really hit home for breast cancer survivor Betty Theirl of Eau Claire. She has been cancer-free for 12 years and endorsed Robach’s message about the importance of accepting support from others.
Theirl recalled asking friends and family for T-shirts she could wear during her 36 radiation treatments. Not only did she end up with 36 new T-shirts, but each time she felt she had a new person with her as she underwent treatment.
Proceeds from the event will go to the foundation’s Monsignor Klimek Healing Presence Endowment.
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