Going Live!

It began three weeks ago when I got a phone call from Georgetown University Hospital. I can still hear the voicemail clear as day. There was so much excitement bursting in her voice, she couldn’t get the words out fast enough. “The TODAY Show wants the story!” said Marianne Worley, head of media and public relations at the hospital. “You’ll be on October 7th, call me immediately.”

When those words hit my ears, I nearly fell out of my seat and onto the office floor. I had to catch my breath and touch everything around me to make sure I hadn’t dosed off. When I could finally move my fingers to dial her number, Marianne answered with even bigger news! Not only did the TODAY Show want me in New York City for a live interview, but NBC Nightly News also wanted to film a segment on my story and interview my genetic counselor and breast surgeon at Georgetown (!). This is when I pinched myself black and blue. I really pinched myself hard. But sure enough it was true! I’d be taking my story to the national stage – first on October 5th with Nightly News and then on October 7th with the TODAY Show.

As exciting as it seemed, I was absolutely terrified! The Nightly News piece would be edited, but I’ve never done a live interview before, let alone with America watching! Like most other ill-fated extroverts, I have a tendency to speak before I think, which is great for brainstorming but very bad for relationships and live national television. What if I froze up, forgot the question in mid-sentence, or failed to mention something really important and rambled on about the weather? What if I could not clearly explain the power of knowledge? How would I then respond to people who are still under the false assumption that ignorance is bliss? Have I bitten off more than I can chew? Is there a way out?!?

Then suddenly my train arrived to Penn Station the evening before my TODAY Show appearance. I arrived to the hotel at Rockefeller Plaza and set my alarm for 4:40am. That was it, there was no back-peddling now unless I mysteriously contracted scarlet fever overnight. Finally, the PREVIVE cameraman, Pablo Durana, said something that calmed my nerves once and for all. “Claudia, your presence alone will speak for itself,” he reassured me. The fact that I would show face for the BRCA community and show face for other young women making similar decisions already spoke enough. Everything else was just bonus, he said.

And so when my alarm went off the next morning, I shot out of bed, wide-eyed and awake. The sun wouldn’t come up for hours, but I was ready to show the world what us young BRCA women are all about! I put on a fierce dress that would do some more talking for me. Then I slipped on the highest pair of black stilettos I’ve ever worn in my entire life. Now I felt bold and beautiful. See, America? It’s quite possible to carry on a normal young adult life, be conscious and proactive about a genetic predisposition to cancer and still look beautiful all the while. None of these things have to be sacrificed for the other.

I teetered over to the TODAY Show studio in my stilt-like stilettos, adrenalin pumping wildly through my blood. The security guard at the door checked off our names and motioned for us to enter. We were immediately directed to the green room, where a young woman in a low-cut plum dress sat waiting in anticipation. Her name was Lizzie Stark. She, too, is a previvor and a blogger at that.

In fact, this brave 28-year-old had a prophylactic mastectomy six months ago and couldn’t be happier with the results! When I introduced myself, I couldn’t help but stare at her rack. “Hi, Lizzie, I’m Claudia! Gosh, your boobs look great!” Again, here I am speaking before thinking. Claudia, work on your filter before the cameras are live and rolling! Lizzy giggled and I heard a few other chuckles throughout the green room.

She said she had the one-step procedure, so Lizzie’s breasts were reconstructed right there on the spot during her mastectomy. How cool! The expert interviewed at the end of my NBC Nightly News segment said that preventative surgery is not easy, that breast reconstruction entails multiple surgeries with no guarantee. There’s certainly never a guarantee with any kind of surgery, whether it be breast surgery, knee surgery or finger surgery. But Lizzie had it all done in one foul swoop! There were no multiple operations involved, just one surgery, and the final product looked amazing!

While I’m in the green room, talking with Lizzie and starring at her boobs, Meredith Veira appears suddenly sweeps into the room! Before I know it, she’s holding me in her arms and kissing me on the cheek. All I can think is, gosh, her cashmere sweater is so soft! Meredith steps back and, to my surprise, begins to share her own story with me and Lizzy. It turns out that Lizzy, Meredith and I all have something in common – a family history of breast cancer. Meredith said that our story meant a lot to her, and she was so grateful that we agreed to share it with a national audience. As for the cameras, never mind those, she said. It’ll just a conversation between us and Dr. Nancy Snyderman, who will add her comments.

Suddenly, a few minutes later, Lizzy and I are ushered down the hall and onto the set. It’s show time. Maybe I should have run to the restroom beforehand, because now I’m really feeling nervous! Lizzy and I take our posts on the plush white sofas, the same furniture I’ve seen countless times on television. And, boy, are they’re comfy! Then Meredith and Dr. Nancy Snyderman sat beside us, just in time for the voice behind the camera to announce that we’re going live in five, four, three, two, one.

Stay calm, keep breathing. I’ve never passed out before, but this could sure be the first. Then I remembered what Pablo said the night before. Just my presence is enough, mine and Lizzy’s together. That fact that we’re both young women, in our 20s, testing for dangerous genetic mutations and doing something about it is powerful enough. Breast cancer doesn’t only happen to older women. We’re just as much at risk as older women, if not more so, and we don’t have a single gray hair on our heads.

When I started blogging in March, I didn’t realize what going public really meant. After the Nightly News piece, I noticed an outpour of comments on our website from men and women across the country!  I cannot begin to tell you how much I’ve enjoyed reading every single word written in response to the posts and the webisodes. It’s absolutely incredible to see women and men from across the country reading my posts, watching the PREVIVE videos and sharing so many intimate details of their own stories in an effort to support me and other young women making similar decisions. I can feel the love pour through in your words, and it brings me to tears.

As the surgery gets nearer and nearer, you have no idea how much your kind words of support mean to me!  It’s so reassuring to see you all cheering me on and, consequently, rooting for all the other young women making big decisions about their health.  And if you have your own story to share, please email it to previve@gmail.com.  The stories we’ve received and posted so far are absolutely inspirational!!  Thank you the courageous women who already shared their journeys with us!  Each of you are a living testament to the fact that knowledge is power, we are blessed to be in your midst!

2 Responses to “Going Live!”

  1. October 26, 2010 at 6:49 pm

    Claudia, I have just turned 40 this year and last October I had a double masectomy. I also tested BRAC1+. My mother, aunt and grandmother all had cancer and have since past away. I wanted my 20 year old daughter to know that there is another way to beat this. She is having the BRAC test done in November. You are an inspiration to all young girls. If you ever need anyone to talk to about your upcoming procedures please feel free to reach out to me. I am having the nipple reconstruction done Dec. 1st. The satisfaction of not worrying about the next mammogram or biopsy is such a relief.

  2. November 13, 2010 at 12:48 am

    I just found your blog. As a fellow cancer survivor, my thoughts and prayers are with you.
    Also…Great Blog! You are a credit to the cancer blogging community. I have added you to my blogroll, “Cancer Blogs Lists” with over 1000 other personal cancer blogs at http://www.beingcancer.net, a cancer networking site featuring a cancer book club, guest blogs, cancer resources, reviews and more.
    If you have not visited before or recently, please stop by. If you agree that the site is a worthwhile resource for those affected by cancer, please consider adding Being Cancer Network to your own blogroll.
    Now that you are listed, you can expect to gain a wider audience for your thoughts and experiences. Being Cancer Network is a place to share and communicate.

    Take care, Dennis (beingcancer@att.net)

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