It was supposed to be a public service, a way to inform millions of American women about the importance of having a mammogram and possibly save hundreds of lives. In 2013, Amy Robach, now a co-anchor on ABC News’ 20/20 and a featured reporter for Good Morning America, agreed to have her first mammogram on-air during the popular morning news show. But what the test revealed was devastating: breast cancer. Amy recently talked to My Hometown Health to share her experience fighting breast cancer and why she decided to go public with her diagnosis.
Who inspired the idea of having a mammogram on Good Morning America?
It began with a phone call from ABC News producer Sandra Aiken, who asked me to consider a sensitive assignment to kick off Breast Cancer Awareness month for Good Morning America —to have the first ever live mammogram in the middle of Times Square.
What was your initial response to the idea?
I said “No way, no how, no thank you!” When I walked into Robin Roberts’ office to explain why I didn’t want to have the live mammogram, she convinced me otherwise with one staggering figure: more than 80% of breast cancer patients have zero family history. Robin said if I had this screening, I would save a life. She said some woman watching would make her appointment because of our segment, would find her cancer and have the best chance at surviving it.
What was your reaction when you heard the diagnosis?
I was in complete and total shock. I looked up my chances for having breast cancer at age 40 with no family history and my search told me it was 1%. I thought cancer couldn’t happen to me.
Why did you decide to have double mastectomy?
My brother is a physician and I trust him more than anyone. He recommended a double mastectomy. After careful consideration and talking it through with my doctors, it just felt right. Turns out it was. In surgery my doctors found a second, previously undetected, malignant tumor. When I woke up to that news, along with the fact that the cancer had spread to my sentinel lymph node, I was devastated. I underwent eight rounds of chemotherapy but avoided radiation because I opted for the double mastectomy. Those five months of chemo were some of the toughest in my life.
What motivated you to go public with your diagnosis?
I wanted to pay it forward. Had it not been for the persuasion of Sandra and Robin, I shudder to think what would have happened. I know without their encouragement, I would have waited years before I even considered getting a mammogram. I now know that the earlier cancer is found, the better chances of survival. I want to spread the word to women and men that cancer doesn’t discriminate and that it’s up to each and every one of us to take advantage of the potentially lifesaving tests we have available to us. I also put my efforts into helping fund research for a cure. It is only through research that we will finally make this disease a chronic condition, not a death sentence.
What physical and emotional side effects did you have to work through during your chemotherapy?
Fatigue was by far the hardest part of chemotherapy for me. I thought of others out there who were dealing with worse situations and that motivated me to get up and accomplish at least one thing a day. Work helped me get through those very tough months, and knowing Robin had walked the same road twice fueled me to keep showing up. Seeing her strength and feeling her kindness each morning was the best medicine.
How are you doing today and what is your prognosis?
I’ve never felt better, and I’ve never been stronger both physically and mentally, but I do live with fear of recurrence. My biggest chance of recurrence, statistically, is in the next five years. However, instead of letting that fear paralyze me, it motivates me. I am reminded that all we have is right now. No one is guaranteed tomorrow and so I live – really truly live – like I’m dying, because we all are one day closer to death. Gratitude and joy have been the gifts that cancer gave me.
I’ll leave you with something my husband Andrew said to me when I hit a low point during my year of treatment: “Don’t die before you die.”