Public Media Arts Hub

This book of breast cancer survival stories seeks to foster solidarity


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Judy Woodruff: Even with so much attention focused on the pandemic, the threat and toll of cancer remains enormously important.

In the U.S., breast cancer remains the second deadliest cancer for women. Estimates suggest that more than 42,000 people will die from it this year, and more than 275,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in 2020.

But there are more than 3.5 million women in America who are survivors, meaning they have been treated or are still being treated.

A new book focuses on those very issues, how to battle and live with breast cancer. It's written by our own Ali Rogin, a producer here at the "NewsHour," about her own experience and that of other women.

It's called "Beat Breast Cancer Like a Boss: 30 Powerful Stories."

I spoke with her earlier this week.

Ali, welcome. It's very good to have you with us. Congratulations on the book.

You have written this illuminating and really personal book, personal story about what happened with you and with so many other women.

And it all started, in your case, with your getting the results back of genetic testing. And you were just a college senior.

Ali Rogin: 30 Powerful Stories": That's right, Judy.

I tested positive for the BRCA1 genetic mutation, which is now better known as the Angelina Jolie gene, following that actress becoming very public with it several years after my experience.

This is a genetic mutation that increases a woman's risk of breast and ovarian cancer exponentially over the course of their lifetime. And, at the time I was going through this, there weren't a whole lot of resources out there for me. It certainly wasn't as mainstream as it became once Angelina Jolie went public.

So, I had a hard time figuring out what to do. I stressed out a lot. I debated my options, and I ultimately decided to have a preventative double mastectomy with reconstructive surgery right before I graduated.

And that was the right decision for me. I have never looked back. That was about 10 years ago.

And what I realized, though, when Angelina went public with her story a few years later, is how much of a sense of solidarity I felt that she was using her platform to speak out publicly.

I felt a lot less alone than I did when I was going through my experience. And, in retrospect, as I thought about how I could use my experience to help other people, I figured that, if I felt that way following reading Angelina's story, other people might feel that really great sense of comfort when they read the stories of other women who we all admire who have gone through breast cancer or a related experience.

Judy Woodruff: You do write, Ali Rogin, about the importance of community, having people there with you.

I want to ask you about that, because the first person you profile here is somebody many of us know. She was Cokie Roberts, ABC, of course, and NPR correspondent for many years, someone we all looked up to as a journalist.

And she sat down with you and talked about her own experience.

Ali Rogin: That's exactly right.

To me, the late, great Cokie Roberts is someone who really embodies the entire message of the book. It's called "Beat Breast Cancer Like a Boss," but I want to make very clear that beating breast cancer doesn't have to look one way or the other.

I think we're all too limited by our definition of talking about beating breast cancer as becoming cancer-free and living cancer-free for the rest of your life. That is a far too limiting definition.

Cokie Roberts, when I interviewed her, she had gone through a very public cancer battle earlier in her life, and she had talked quite a bit about it and had become a strong advocate for other women battling breast cancer.

What I didn't know when I interviewed her was that she had recently found out that her cancer had returned, and it had come back worse. And the fact that she was so willing to speak to me about her earlier experience and talk about how she lived her life and the importance of being close to family, doing the things that make you happy, even as she was back in the fight actively, was a lesson that I didn't really fully learn until she passed away, because she did not tell me that she was back actively in the fight.

So, I think, when you talk about beating breast cancer, nobody embodied that more than Cokie Roberts, who I believe beat breast cancer every single day of her life.

Judy Woodruff: And, Ali, you went on to talk to several dozen other women about how they made decisions about their own treatment, some of them well-known women, Sheryl Crow, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, but others we don't know as well.

But your point all the way through is that each one made her own decision about how to handle this terrible thing and -- that she was dealing with.

Ali Rogin: Absolutely.

It's such a critical point, Judy. There is no right way to deal with breast cancer. There is no single way to deal with breast cancer. Every single person dealing with breast cancer or any other type of cancer deals with it in their own way, and they are entitled to deal with it in their own way.

Lots of people, for example, like to have friends and family come visit them when they're getting treatment, although, of course, in the time of the coronavirus, that isn't always possible.

But there are, of course, many people who say: I want chemotherapy or radiation or what have you to be my time. I don't want anybody there.

And they use that time to have some moments to themselves. Many people chose not to inform anybody but their closest caretaker or their spouse until after they were done with their treatment, because they didn't want to have to deal with the emotional burden in many cases of having to deal with other people's reaction to your own diagnosis.

That can be something that is just as draining as dealing with your own feelings about a diagnosis.

Judy Woodruff: Well, you have performed such a great service, Ali Rogin, in telling these stories and going and collecting these stories and sharing them with us, as I said, from women who -- names we recognize and other women we don't. But every single story here is worth reading and worth sharing.

Ali Rogin, it's "Beat Breast Cancer Like a Boss: 30 Powerful Stories."

Thank you so much.

Ali Rogin: Thank you, Judy.

Judy Woodruff: And we're so proud of Ali for writing that book. It is a gift to so many women and men who may be dealing with breast cancer.

Support Canvas

Sustain our coverage of culture, arts and literature.

Send Us Your Ideas
Let us know what you'd like to see on ArtsCanvas. Your thoughts and opinions matter.