Katie Couric is a controversial figure, but she has done amazing work for health. She turned the tragedy of her first husband’s death from colon cancer into raising awareness about a subject that used to never get any mention due to the nature of the exams. Now people are having their colonoscopies filmed to support early detection. It looks like Katie’s going to do the same work with breast cancer. Unfortunately, this time it will be her own story. Katie revealed yesterday that she had been diagnosed with the disease. She said after putting off her mammogram for six months, they found an olive-sized tumor that came back cancerous. Now that it’s removed and she’s almost finished with radiation, Katie is making a plea to her followers to get checked regularly and to push for additional screenings if they think there is any reason for it.
Katie Couric revealed in a personal essay on Wednesday that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer.
The legendary journalist and author, whose first husband Jay Monahan died of colon cancer in 1998, opened up about her health while urging her female followers to get their mammograms — something she said she had to be reminded of during a visit to her gynecologist.
“Please get your annual mammogram,” wrote Couric, 65. “I was six months late this time. I shudder to think what might have happened if I had put it off longer. But just as importantly, please find out if you need additional screening.”
She explained in her essay that she learned she had cancer after her mammogram — and a breast sonogram she routinely undergoes to detect abnormalities that sometimes can’t be seen through her dense breast tissue — spotted something her doctor wanted to look at further.
A biopsy came back as showing cancer in her breast.
“I felt sick and the room started to spin,” the former Today anchor wrote of the moment she learned of her diagnosis. “I was in the middle of an open office, so I walked to a corner and spoke quietly, my mouth unable to keep up with the questions swirling in my head. ‘What does this mean? Will I need a mastectomy? Will I need chemo? What will the next weeks, months, even years look like?’ ”
She also considered her family’s history of cancer (he father had prostate cancer and her mother, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma), which led her to think, “Why would I be spared? My reaction went from ‘Why me?’ to ‘Why not me?’ ”
Couric had a lumpectomy on July 14, doctors removing a tumor she wrote was “2.5 centimeters, roughly the size of an olive.”
Pathology results came back as showing that her cancer was stage 1A. She also learned that the likelihood of the cancer returning was “considered low enough to forgo chemotherapy.”
The former talk show host — whose husband John Molner had “a tumor the size of a coconut on his liver” surgically removed prior to their 2014 wedding — started radiation on Sept. 7, with her final round occurring just this past Tuesday.
The article goes on to say that Katie will cover every aspect of breast cancer throughout the month of October, from the latest technology and diagnostic tools and tests to treatments and prevention strategies. She’ll also talk to other people who’ve battled the disease. It’s a great use of her platform and I hope it keeps the discussion on breast cancer moving forward. Katie touched on this in her essay, and we can never stop beating this drum, but screenings have to be made available to everyone. My insurance covers my annual mammograms and some additional screenings, but I pay through the nose for my insurance, so they get you one way or the other. I have friends, though, who don’t even get a full mammogram covered. One frequently skips hers as a result. That’s dangerous and yet, I would probably make the same choices she does if I was in her shoes. We have to do better for all women’s health in this country. Katie spoke of insurance companies reimbursing patients for breast ultrasounds, I’m talking about covering it in the first place so no one has to save up just to be seen.
I hope Katie’s at the end of her cancer story and I’m glad she got to forgo chemotherapy. I know not everyone is so lucky. If breast cancer has touched your life, I’m sorry. I know that’s not much but know we’re here if you want to share your story with us.
Photo credit: Instagram, Cover Images and Avalon Red
The ACA mandates that most health insurance fully cover mammograms with no cost sharing as preventive, not diagnostic care. Sometimes a bill is generated because of a coding error. Other times, the insurer is deliberately in violation of the ACA. Many states mandate full coverage as well. If your insurance isn’t covering it, find out why & fight it. If your state doesn’t mandate full coverage, demand your state legislature do something
I don’t know if this is true of mammograms – but I remember with a colonoscopy, if they didn’t find anything, then it was billed as preventive and covered by my insurance. If they did find something, it was billed as diagnostic and then there was whopping big co-pay.
If that happens, fight it. Ask for the bill to be reviewed by the servicing provider’s coding/billing area.
Even if they find something, the first exam is considered preventive. Any subsequent exams or post treatment check ups are diagnostic, true, but the first one should still be preventive.
@Nicole – you would think, wouldn’t you. I did fight it for quite a while, but got nowhere.
I’m glad she is going to focus on this. I just had my first mammogram, then a second ultrasound guided mammogram. Then a core needle biopsy. I was so scared at the same time I was calling around to find the best price since I have a high deductible insurance plan so I would be paying out of pocket. The cost varies wildly. My biopsy came back benign to my relief. But the entire process was stressful.
I have a friend who had breast cancer and mastectomies and reconstruction. Recently. So it was top of my mind what could have been.
Please check your boobies even if you’re not old enough for regular mammograms! My friend was 39, diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer and died 16 months later.
I was too young for a mammogram. I did months self exams because I knew I had risk factors. I found my own tumor and because I could, with certainty, say when it wasn’t there, they could estimate how fast the thing was growing & spreading and they acted really quickly to get it out of me.
My American cousin was diagnosed 6 months before her first mammogram at 39 and died at 42. Thankfully, I am in Canada and they started giving me mammograms yearly at 37 because of my cousin.
Yes! I still remember being in the hospital for my 24th birthday, having a breast lump removed. Luckily, it was a benign tumor, but I can honestly say I wasn’t doing monthly exams then, I just didn’t know any better.
Years later, a good 5+ after my mother had died of breast cancer, my mammogram was followed up with an ultrasound, which showed what they said was a cyst & nothing to worry about. I told my doctor, nope, my mother died of breast cancer I want that thing out & biopsied, so she referred me to a surgeon. Turned out it was just a cyst, but I’ve read of women being told that only to find out a year later they’ve now got Stage 4 breast cancer. Don’t wait, trust your instincts, and find a doctor who listens to you (not always easy, I know).
Also, learn about your breast density. Dense breasts can mean mammograms aren’t as good at detecting cancer and you need further investigation.
I’ve lost 2 friends to breast cancer and I’m about to lose a third. Please get checked.
Thank you for saying this! My friend with dense breast tissue was diagnosed very early thanks to an ultrasound, as the tumor wasn’t visible on mammogram (or, maybe it was visible, but tumors show up as white on a mammogram and breast tissue also shows up as white, so you cannot always distinguish the tumor from breast tissue). Thank goodness she was using both methods for screening.
Mine are dense, too, and now I’m getting 3D mammograms, which are supposed to be better images for dense breasts. So far so good.
I’d like to add, if you’re getting a breast reduction make sure they do a mammogram prior to surgery. They should any way but it gets skipped sometimes if they think a patient is below the recommended age for one. This happened to a friend of mine and less than 6 months after her reduction she was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. It had already metastisized. She fought it for 4 years before she passed away.
3D mammograms are better for dense breasts but not always available. I tried to get one but was denied. Getting an appt wasn’t possible even if paying cash – doctor referral required as well. My friend got one because that’s the default at the imaging center in her city.
A friend of mine had to drive 3.5 hrs to get her 3D mammogram. It’s tough sometimes getting adequate medical care, especially when you live in rural areas.
As a health care provider who has some experience with this — if you go in with symptoms, and they order a screening test like colonoscopy or mammogram, then it’s a diagnostic test and not covered. If you’re just getting it for the screening and have no symptoms, it should be covered as preventative. That’s why stool tests for colon cancer kinda suck. On one hand, more people will do it because it’s easy. On the other hand, if your stool test is positive, then your follow up colonoscopy is diagnostic and not necessarily covered.
The area I live in has such poor medical infrastructure that the health clinics are so overwhelmed and aren’t even doing annual exams for women at this point. Women have gone years at this point without Pap smears and mammograms if they can’t travel out of state of to a different area. These tests are important but sadly not accessible to many Americans because of cost or lack of access.
I am so sad to hear this. We really do need national health care, or barring that, at least stop shutting down places like Planned Parenthood that could provide women much-needed care.
I have breast cancer at 34. I was incredibly lucky to find it and now I’ve had a bilateral mastectomy. I also had 16 rounds of chemo and will start radiation soon. I’m also on a pill form of chemo for the next two years. Please, I beg you, check your boobs regularly and don’t skip mammograms, even if you think you’re too young.
Best wishes, Jessie. So glad you found it early.
Thank you. <3
My sister died of metastatic breast cancer after being diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer, which meant that her treatment options were limited.
Because of her, I grew to despise the pinkification of the breast cancer narrative and the language that suggests that if you just have a positive attitude, you can win the “battle.” No one was more courageous than my beautiful sister. No one was more generous or kinder. She didn’t lose a battle because she didn’t fight it hard enough. She died of a terrible disease that in her case, was crueler than for most others. She’d want me to point out that her story is not everyone woman’s story. She’d want me to point out that yes, early detection is important. And she’d want me to point out that it’s essential that you find physicians who will treat you with compassion and respect. She’d also want me to point out that we should vote for politicians who truly care about health care for women, children and men.
She was my hero.
I’m so terribly sorry for your loss. She sounds like an amazing and brave woman.
I also absolutely despise the pinkification and the entire “save the boobies” campaign. I also feel the pressure from people to stay positive and be a ”good” cancer patient. I am truly sorry for the loss of your sister. She sounds like a remarkable woman and her advice will likely save someone.
Be your own advocate and don’t let anyone convince you your concerns are invalid.
Thank you so much, Ripley and Jessie. She really was wonderful.
She was most concerned about her classroom of students with special needs. When her doctors told her she was too physically weak to teach, she was crushed. She would have been in her classroom until the very end if she could have been.
And Jessie: Be who you want to be. That is enough, though you’re absolutely right about being your own advocate.
From the American Cancer Society: “Studies have shown that keeping a positive attitude does not change the course of a person’s cancer. Trying to keep a positive attitude does not lead to a longer life and can cause some people to feel guilty when they can’t ‘stay positive.’ This only adds to their burden.”
Your sister had bad luck, and I really dislike the implication from the pink people that all you need is early detection and a positive attitude, as if that puts it within a woman’s control when it really isn’t. The pink machine also doesn’t like to talk about stage IV cases, and only focuses on perky women who beat cancer at 30 and now run marathons. I get it, it’s “marketing,” but I think it is insulting to women who don’t fall into that category. I also think the pink machine gives polluting corporations a “pass” — many of them celebrate pink month and make public showings/promotional campaigns about mammograms, while covering up the fact that THEY are contributing to women getting breast cancer in the first place.
I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to go off on a rant. I mostly just wanted to say I am sorry for your loss.
I’m 42 and was just diagnosed with BRCA1 in April. It was through my dad which is a journey and a half in and of itself. Originally I was going to have a hysterectomy (finished having kids) and monitor breasts with alternating mammograms and MRIs. Then my younger cousin was diagnosed with Stage 3 triple negative breast cancer that had spread to her lymph nodes so my medical team and I pivoted. I’m now in recovery from my bilateral mastectomy and will have my hysterectomy in November.
Let me tell you that this is not cheap (about $1K a week when I was prepping and recovering from surgery) and we have “good” insurance. Apparently I’ve met my deductible and am now in the “cost sharing” portion of the plan (I didn’t even know that was a thing?!). But I’m one of the lucky ones… I’m not going through chemo and my pathology was all clear with my likelihood of developing breast cancer dropping from 80% to 2%. I don’t know how my cousin is doing it as she’s going through chemo and then surgeries and then radiation. She’s going to be medically bankrupt even with our decently successful Go Fund Me we set up for her. Sorry for the rant, I’m just continually dumbfounded by our morally bankrupt healthcare system in the US and in the throes of it all at the moment.
I have a number of previvor friends who have opted for mastectomies and oophorectomies as well. Hugs to you on this journey.
Ripley: Wishing you the very best. And you are so right about our health care system being morally bankrupt.
I truly respect that physicians spend a lot of money on their training — it’s the health care executives making bank who I find immoral. No one should get rich off of other people’s illness.
I was diagnosed with Tuma Thurman (invasive ductal carcinoma in my right breast) last spring, and I will, until my very last breath, fight for earlier screenings for everyone. Too many folks are dying of treatable cancers because they don’t catch them until they’ve hit Stage IV. We can and must do better.
Anyway, ladies, go get your boobs smashed. And please always remember that you are your best medical advocate.
Take care, Cait.
For dense breasted ladies: make sure to advocate for yourself getting early mammos (ideally 3D) and follow up ultrasounds if needed.
I self check weekly and never felt a 5cm (almost 2 inch) mass under my dense breast tissue. Thankfully my tumor wasn’t aggressive or I’d be toast. Self checks aren’t enough for dense breast!
Health and healing to all…
I just had my first mammogram last week (I’m turning 45 in just over a week), had an ultrasound on Monday to look at a mass that the mammogram spotted, and tomorrow morning I’m having a core needle biopsy. Every healthcare pro I’ve dealt with throughout this process has been very kind and told me not to worry, what’s happening is not out of the ordinary for a first time experience, but my anxiety is still pretty high.
Wishing you best of luck Wendy — I had several masses that turned out to be benign and just went away by themselves.
She described perfectly what I felt when I got the news. The room spun, I couldn’t breathe, and even though I lived literally a 2 minute walk from the medical clinic I didn’t know if I would make it across the street. I felt faint, thought I would vomit, burst into tears, it was surreal. I got lucky though, the type of breast cancer I had rarely metastasizes and a lumpectomy with a month of radiation was enough. That being said, I found it via self-examination. One day it wasn’t there, a month later it was. I’m not saying everyone will find their cancer that way, there are too many variants to rely on it, and to please have regular mammos and, if necessary, ultrasounds for dense breast tissue.
The best to her and I commend the courage she had to tell her story. She also had an on-air colonoscopy after her first husband died of colon cancer. Fight hard, Katie. To your full recovery.
Not all Breast Cancer has a tumor.
There’s a type known as Inflammatory Breast Cancer; and it’s rare and quite deadly. When it’s eventually diagnosed, it’s already at Stage 3. I know this first hand because I have it.
It’s usually misdiagnosed as a breast infection. The breast becomes red, swollen, itchy, warm. Demand more testing! An MRI is what found mine; it runs through the lymphatic system, therefore spreading rapidly.
I’ve done 18 rounds of chemotherapy along with 30 radiation treatments, along with countless other medications.
But sadly mine has metastasized to my bones, liver and lung. I’m currently on hospice with 2 to 3 months left to live.
Please do whatever you can to get checked, just be informed and get checked!
Jennyjenny: I’m so deeply sorry.
How kind of you to urge others to get checked.
I am so very sad to hear this, I don’t have words to say how much I wish you the best for whatever time you (and really, all of us) have left. Your post is the first time I’ve heard of this particular form of cancer, and I’m sure that is true for many women. It may be small comfort to hear, but there’s a good chance you have saved many other women by being brave enough to post your story.
Oh, Jennyjenny, I am so sorry.