I was really anxious leading up to my interview with Robin Roberts. We are friends, have been for a while, albeit from afar. She clearly rolls in a different world than mine, but we share a passion for people and our professions.
As we sat down in an office in Los Angeles the day after the ESPYS, we shared a passion to eradicate the same insidious disease that nearly killed her -- twice -- and that I'm battling now.
Robin is one of the most gracious, friendly, down-to-earth stars on TV. She's the kind of woman you want to hang with just to hang. She's funny, self-deprecating and compassionate. And she gave me something precious: her time.
This, though, was new territory for me -- talking about myself, my breast cancer, and asking her for advice. I read both of her books and thought I was as prepared as can be, especially to interview a friend. But this was about cancer. I was newly diagnosed. I had started treatment and antiestrogen designed to shrink my tumors just a day earlier, and I was scared for what I was up against.
So I asked her about it. And you heard what she said: "Fight, fight, fight ... and when you can't fight, let others fight for you."
It was mid-May when my doctor called and told me I had an abnormal mammogram. I kind of had an idea what it would be. My breast looked weird, like it was crooked. I, of course, Googled the symptoms and then, because another friend had just had a double mastectomy (age 36, four children younger than 7), I decided not to put off my yearly mammogram. I ran into the diagnostic center, let them do their thing and then caught a flight to Oklahoma City. It was the NBA conference finals.
Three days later, my doctor called and told me there was trouble. It didn't help that he is a die-hard Lakers fan and interrupted telling me I had cancer by asking, "Oh, crap, what pick did the Lakers get?" It was during the draft lottery. I screamed back at him, "Uh, I'm a little preoccupied right now!"
From there it was a whirl of tests, ESPN graciously allowing me to make trips home from the NBA Finals to get poked and prodded and trying to work as hard as I could so I didn't freak out. Tough to do.
Eventually I learned I have invasive lobular carcinoma in my left breast with at least one lymph node positive. And eventually we decided on a plan: the anti-estrogen pill, which makes me feel every morning like I got hit by a truck. Yoga and workouts at my gym, HeyDay in San Pedro, California, help immensely.
I will be on that pill for the next five years. I will have surgery in January, hopefully a large lumpectomy, followed by chemotherapy, length determined by what they find, and then radiation. It hit me, after we settled on that, that this wasn't something I could fix in a week or a month. "Get ready for a marathon," my oncologist said.
So I bought some new running shoes!
Talking with Robin helped tremendously. I still look a little stiff in the interview, I think, because it was the first time I had really reached out to someone. As we talked, though, what struck me was how passionate she was about how fortunate we are to work for a good company that will give us time off and has a great insurance plan.
It really made me think. What about women who work hourly wage jobs? Or have kids at home to take care of? Or no transportation? Or no insurance? Or no money?
I started to make calls. I wanted to find out how women in a shelter, for example, can get checked and tested. I learned that many don't want to know if they have breast cancer because they don't have the resources to deal with it. That stunned me. And it made me really sad.
So I decided to act. I found the National Breast Cancer Foundation, whose motto is "helping women now." The organization, based in Dallas, finds rides for women to get free mammograms. If a woman tests positive, the foundation finds grants from hospitals to cover treatment and care for the woman's children and helps arrange leaves from jobs.
That's why I went public, to raise awareness for early detection but also to raise money to help women now. I am hosting a fundraiser for NBCF at my home next week, celebrating my friend with the kids and another young friend whom I've known for 20 years who also had a double mastectomy. The one with the kids found a lump in October. She was told if she hadn't acted on it then, she would have been dead by Christmas.
Claire Smith, an ESPNer and the best baseball writer ever, and Carrie Kreiswirth, who works in PR and was diagnosed at 36, have become my cancer warrior sisters. Together we are fighting --- not just for ourselves but for the 1 in 8 women who have breast cancer.
I had no family history of breast cancer. In fact, 80 percent of women who get breast cancer have no family history. But it has touched just about everyone's life in some way. I've learned that now, by the overwhelming response to my public announcement. So many people have reached out, and it truly has moved me. The first night after going public, I was in tears knowing I could be making a difference.
My favorite photo is the "Shelley Smith United We Fight" sign made by the Oregon fans at the Ducks' Thursday night football game. That someone, probably someone I don't even know, would take the time to make a sign was touching. I've gotten calls, emails, tweets and messages; it's hard to keep up. I read them all and take them to heart. They truly are helping me through one of the toughest times in my life -- with an even tougher time ahead of me.
My daughter thought of the movie "A League of Their Own" and remembered Tom Hanks' tirade once he learned he got his top player back just in time for the championship game. He turned away from the dugout and said softly at first, "We're gonna win." Then, louder, "We're gonna win."
We have made that our motto. But we can't win unless we know what the fight is. So early detection is our purpose. Making treatment available to women in need is our objective.
Robin's mom had told her "make your mess your message." Well, here we go. This is for Robin's mom too:
We're gonna win!