Life After Breast Cancer

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Cancer gave me the guts to be myself.

-- Jill Dougherty, 60, diagnosed 10 years ago

Dougherty lives in Washington D.C., where she is foreign affairs correspondent for CNN. She had a lumpectomy for invasive ductal carcinoma followed by chemotherapy, radiation, and five years of tamoxifen. She's now on Arimidex.

My hair started to turn gray when I was in my 20s -- by the time I'd reached my 40s it was noticeable. Since I'd seen lots of women with chic silver hair and loved how it looked, I decided to run with it. But my friends, not to mention my perennially blonde mother, were aghast. It was career suicide, they insisted: TV reporters never had gray hair, unless they were men, in which case it was "distinguished." So I caved and the cycle began: coloring, highlights, single process, dual process.... The tedium continued for years and cost me a fortune. Then I got breast cancer.

A month into my chemotherapy, my hair started falling out in clumps. I had the rest shaved off. It was traumatic at the time, but as I struggled through round after brutal round of chemo my looks were the last thing on my mind. Being reduced to my bare essence got me thinking about who I was and what really mattered.

Early on in my treatment I asked a nurse what I should do to stay healthy. "Be kind to yourself," she replied. "Listen to your body." I understood the words but I honestly had no idea what they meant. I'd never been someone who listened to her body; I told my body what to do and got on with it.

Tuning in to my needs was a heady new experience. For once I focused less on what other people thought of me and more on what I thought of myself. Gradually I came to realize that I wanted to be authentic -- yes, even on TV.

The new hair beneath my wig was salt-and-pepper with a dose more salt. I liked it, but an editor friend at CNN sealed the deal when I got up the nerve to show her my short 'do and she said, "Jill, it looks great!" That was all I needed to hear. So long, hair color. And going gray has turned out to be an asset. It gets me noticed and remembered. But most gratifying of all, it has liberated me to be exactly who I am, on camera and off: a woman, a journalist, a cancer survivor. Thanks to a disease that once threatened my life, my outside finally matches my inside.

Continued on page 3:  Breast cancer showed me my purpose.

 

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