Since being diagnosed in 2007, network anchor at ABC News and host of Good Morning America
Robin Roberts has been candid about her battle with breast cancer.
Whether revealing her shaved head on television or encouraging survivors around the country, Roberts has seized every opportunity to use her struggle to educate women about the value of self-exams and breast cancer awareness. On her 49th birthday she wonders what would have happened had she followed the new mammogram rules and waited till she was 50.
She spoke with ESSENCE.com about her journey and how the new guidelines affect women of color.
ESSENCE.com: You found out you had breast cancer in 2007 shortly after your colleague Joel Siegel passed away from colon cancer. Tell us how the two relate.
He passed away from colon cancer and it just so happened I did a piece on how his doctor told him had he gotten a colonoscopy at the age of 50, instead of 53, the prognosis could have been different. That very night I go home and fell asleep on my couch. I woke up, stretched and felt a lump I hadn’t felt in the shower that morning. And because I had done regular self-breast exams I knew it was different right away. When I was saw the doctor I didn’t even tell him why I was there so he’s just giving me the basics, blood pressure, blood work and things like that. So I had to tell him as he was leaving the examining room. I said doctor, ‘I have a lump, could you please check it?’ So he’s looking at me like ‘girl, why didn’t you tell me that?”
ESSENCE.com: What did you think when you heard about the new recommendations?
I was floored because since my diagnosis I have been going around talking to everybody saying the reason I’m still here is because I caught it early. I was 46 at that time so I’m thinking if these new guidelines had been in place would I have still acted on it? Would I be thinking, ‘Well they say not until 50.’ But do they tell you that 70% to 80% of people diagnosed with breast cancer do not have a history? That’s a lot of people.
ESSENCE.com: How do you think this affects African-American women?
: To also be told as a woman of color that you’re less likely to get it but more likely to die when you do get it; what are you supposed to do with that? I can’t tell you how many people come up to me and they say they’re a survivor. We hug and we cry and I’m thankful. But there aren’t a lot of black women coming up to me and saying that. There is a high mortality rate in our community so we have to do whatever we can to defeat that. And one of the things, I still believe, is finding out early.
: One of the arguments floating about is that these are just guidelines, we don’t have to live by them.
: You have to be your own advocate. Mammograms are painful and they’re uncomfortable and so there are group of women that will now go, ‘Hey I get an extra 10 years, I don’t have to go.’ And also with insurance companies it’ll be more difficult. I say instead of getting that extra pair of shoes or getting your nails done, if you have to scrimp and save so you can pay for a mammogram every year, please do that.
: Obviously you’re not a doctor, but with black women being diagnosed with breast cancer as young as 15, when do you think we should start talking about this?
: When I was first diagnosed we had women in their teens, 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s on the show just showing how it hit virtually every decade. That’s why it caught us all off guard with the new guidelines being 50 when there’s just so many younger women in their 20’s and 30’s on a regular basis now being diagnosed.