A Two-Way Street: Joan Lunden Shares Her Cancer Experience

Throughout her treatment for breast cancer, TV personality Joan Lunden has advocated for patients like herself—while drawing strength from their support.
BETH FAND INCOLLINGO @fandincollingo
PUBLISHED: FEBRUARY 16, 2015
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Joan Lunden held onto something vital the day her father died.

After the plane crash that killed the prominent cancer surgeon, Lunden vowed she would carry on his mission to help people live healthy lives. She was 13 years old.

At first, Lunden thought she would accomplish that by becoming a doctor, but in the brief time she spent working in a hospital, she could tell that scalpels and stitches were not for her. Instead, she became a television newscaster, speaker and author, devoting much of her career to encouraging audiences to live a healthy lifestyle.

Now that the former star of ABC’s “Good Morning America” is a patient herself, she’s continuing that effort. Diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer in June 2014, Lunden has undergone 16 rounds of chemotherapy, followed by a lumpectomy and radiation that concluded on Feb. 13. She’s working more from home, but she’s working, chronicling her treatment and sharing her new knowledge about cancer with an eager fan base via her website JoanLunden.com, social and print media, television interviews and speeches.




Joan Lunden was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer in the summer of 2014. Photo courtesy of JoanLunden.com.

 



 


As the keynote speaker Feb. 28 at the Miami Breast Cancer Conference—run by Physicians’ Education Resource, a sister company to CURE—she’ll address a ballroom full of doctors who do the same thing her father did. “I have the unique opportunity to give the patient’s perspective from my personal journey,” she says, “and be the voice for the thousands of women who have written in to me who are battling cancer as well.”

In an interview at her home, Lunden called that work the silver lining to an otherwise grueling and frightening experience.

“I was going to sleep one night and I said, ‘Nobody wants to get cancer. But in a kind of odd way, this is dropping into my lap an opportunity to fulfill my dad’s legacy.’”

ADVOCATING FOR ULTRASOUND

One way Lunden is doing that is by speaking frequently about the fact that she has dense breast tissue, which makes it hard for doctors to discern tumors via mammogram—even the new 3D kind. If she hadn’t followed her most recent mammogram with an ultrasound, Lunden says, she would have been in the dark about the aggressive 2.3-centimeter tumor in her right breast, near her chest wall, and the smaller one growing in front of that.

Dense breast tissue appears white on a mammogram—and so do tumors. “It’s basically like looking for a snowball in the middle of a snowstorm,” she says. Perhaps the biggest problem with dense breast tissue is that many women have no idea they have it, or that it can cloud the results of their mammograms.

Talk about this article with other patients, caregivers, and advocates in the Breast Cancer CURE discussion group.
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