For Cokie Roberts, Raising Awareness
About Breast Cancer Is A Heartfelt Cause
For more than 20 years, Cokie Roberts has been a passionate advocate for breast cancer education and research. The longtime political commentator for ABC News and NPR recently spoke to MyHealth about her work to raise awareness of a disease that will affect one out of every eight women.
When did you first become involved in supporting breast cancer research and education?
In January 1992, I was at a funeral home. In the room to my left was a good friend who had died of breast cancer in her late 40s. Across the hall was another close friend who had died of breast cancer in her early 50s. That tragic loss of life just made me furious. It was a real wake-up call for me. At the time, the money devoted to AIDS research was greater than the research funding for cancer and heart disease combined. I’m all for finding a cure for AIDS, but in terms of the number of people being killed by these diseases, the numbers just didn’t make sense. That’s when I decided to get involved and do what I could to increase awareness and provide more funding for breast cancer research and education.
What changes have you seen in the fight against breast cancer since 1992?
We’ve made tremendous progress. There are 2.6 million breast cancer survivors in the United States alone. Hundreds of thousands of these women would not be alive today if it weren’t for the increased awareness and improved treatments that have been developed during the last two decades. The survival rate has improved significantly. Women with breast cancer are living longer. Millions of women, including myself, have benefitted from the many advancements made by researchers. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002, for example, I was able to continue working during my chemotherapy because the side effects were much less debilitating than earlier chemo treatments.
But there’s still so much work that needs to be done. We’re still losing
more women to breast cancer every year than the number of combat deaths during the entire Vietnam War. That has to change.
What advice would you give to women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer?
I encourage women to learn as much as they can about their diagnosis and become actively involved in planning their treatment. Discuss the different treatment options with your doctor so you can choose the one that’s best for you and your family. Contact your community hospital for information about local support groups. Talk to your loved ones. Their love and encouragement will give you strength. When you first hear the news, it’s very easy to be overcome by the feeling that you have no power or control over the situation, and that can be terrifying. But being diagnosed with breast cancer is not a death sentence. This is a time to take action.
What’s the one message you want to communicate to women?
Never be afraid of having a mammogram. The worst thing that could happen is that you’re told you have breast cancer, and that’s OK. You can live with that. But if you wait too long before having a mammogram, you may find yourself dealing with a far more serious situation. Early detection is so important. Don’t let the fear of what you may find stop you from having a mammogram and finding the truth. As millions of American women can tell you, it can save your life!