Journalist Joan Lunden was shocked when she was diagnosed with stage 2 triple negative breast cancer in 2014. The rare breast cancer wasn’t detected on a mammogram. An ultrasound identified the two tumors in her right breast.
Although the former co-host of ABC’s “Good Morning America” had reported on breast cancer, she admittedly had never worried about the disease affecting her. She’d had a baseline mammogram at age 35, followed by fairly regular screenings yearly after she turned 40.
A few years before her diagnosis, when Lunden interviewed well-known cancer physician Dr. Susan Love, she mentioned that after routine mammograms, she often was asked to come back to take more images because she has dense breasts. Dr. Love explained dense breasts are difficult for mammographers to read, comparing it to looking for a snowball in a snowstorm. Dr. Love recommended that with Lunden’s breast density, she should have an ultrasound in addition to a mammogram.
That advice saved Lunden’s life. After her diagnosis, she received aggressive chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. Because the tumors shrunk from chemo, her surgery was less extensive and she didn’t need breast reconstruction surgery. Now 68, she’s approaching five years of being cancer-free.
What to know
The TV personality urges women to know the density of their breasts and to get yearly screenings after age 40. “If it is caught at an early stage, there is a 98 percent chance that you will survive it,” Lunden says, concluding, “This doesn’t have to be a death sentence.” She advises getting a second opinion, and tells fellow cancer patients to take a loved one with them to appointments for support, to ask questions and to take notes.
A rewarding experience
Lunden’s father, who died in a plane crash when she was 12, was a cancer surgeon. She always looked up to him for the work he did to save lives. Now she’s helping carry on her father’s legacy by using her platform for good. Lunden took her phone to every doctor’s appointment so she could document her treatments for her website and social media followers, and shared her experience and findings as a special correspondent on NBC’s “Today Show.” She also wrote about her cancer journey in her book, “Had I Known: A Memoir of Survival.”
“What you would think would have been the worst year of my life ironically turned into an incredibly rewarding year of my life.”