Story by Bob Nesoff
If you look up the word “passionate” in the Merriam Webster Dictionary, it’ll say: “having, showing, or expressing strong emotions or beliefs expressing or relating to strong... feelings”
What it should have is a picture of Joan Lunden next to it. That’s all the definition necessary.
The career journalist and former Good Morning America co-host is is on a mission to bring total awareness to the continuing scourge of breast cancer.
Why? Joan Lunden herself was afflicted with the disease and that has given her the oomph to bring the message to the world that something should be done about it. Something must be done.
Her mission today is to bring a message of hope and prevention, especially for women who are or could be affected by breast cancer.
“Too many people do not have a plan in place in the event they are stricken with a serious illness,” she said. “I didn’t and when the diagnosis was given to me it was very difficult to wrap my brain around it.”
“With treatment today and early detection, breast cancer can frequently be controlled. A half century ago life expectancy was perhaps to the mid 50s. Today you can expect to live decades longer. Most of our parents didn’t really take care of themselves and many of us did not do so either.”
“People had to dip into their life savings for treatment and often it would wipe them out financially.”
“I was brought up with the ethic that ‘Whatever you do, make sure you are making a difference.’ If you do that, you can do anything,” Lunden said.
Joan’s life changed with the diagnosis of breast cancer.
“I had an ‘aha moment,’ and knew things were going to change. I thought I could wear glasses, a wig and slink about. Then I remembered my dad fighting cancer as a doctor and realized that trying to hide would be uncharacteristic.” “I realized that: ‘Girlfriend you just got the opportunity of a lifetime.’ With that wake-up call and a new attitude, I learned as much as I could and determined to help other women. It was a turning point and gave me a focus on breast cancer and life.”
Joan’s true focus now zeroes in on helping women…not just those afflicted with breast or any other type of cancer. She founded a camp in Maine where women can explore what they can do and push themselves to limits they never thought possible.
The camp, at Long Lake by Naples, Maine, gives women the opportunity to climb a rock wall, play tennis, do Tai Chi, yoga, zumba and a host of other physical activities.
“This is our 10th year running the camp. Our guests range in age from 21 to 71 and all are treated equally. They come from the United States and Canada.”
Once Joan Lunden gets her teeth into a subject she is passionate about, everything else goes by the wayside. NYLM was told that Joan was very busy with her project and only had a limited time for an interview. They forgot to tell her. What was originally slated for a brief talk stretched into aboutan hour with her talking almost non-stop. “I get passionate when I talk about these subjects,” she said, smiling. She then launched into a near monologue about what was next on the table.
Her major new project is a program: “ALIVE With Joan Lunden” that will broadcast in a new and unique manner... on an online TV channel.
“The show will be focused specifically on women surviving from and living with breast cancer and their circles of support. The channel will also be for every woman who wants to prevent cancer and live a healthy life.”
“ALIVE is more than just a place to get information, it’s a welcoming community providing a constant connection for millions of women who might have felt they were going through the journey alone.”
Some of the program content includes: the newest and most cutting-edge research, emerging therapies and technology; coaching sessions on fitness, nutrition and beauty; inspirational stories of survivors, caregivers and clinicians; interactive video ‘hangouts’ with real survivors and researchers; celebrity interviews; behind the scenes access as Joan crisscrosses the country on her ‘mission’ including marching on Capitol Hill; and the basics of breast cancer.
The channel is available on smartphone, tablet or computer. It streams over the internet similar to Netflix. Subscribers get new content daily, delivered over-the-top to any device and available on demand.
Never letting moss grow under her feet, Joan also has a book making its debut this month. Titled “Had I Known” (www.joanlunden.com/had-i-known), she shares the inspirational story of her personal fight against breast cancer.
“When I first heard the words ‘You have cancer,’ deep down I knew exactly what that meant. It meant CANCER... the Big C. It also meant this was the real deal and, yes, I could die from this.”
Joan had always gone for regularly scheduled mammograms. Her cancer was discovered when she took the advice of breast cancer expert Dr. Susan Love, who told Lunden that because she had dense breasts, she should have an ultrasound test as well as a mammogram. The diagnosis after that test was Stage 2 cancer.
A mother of seven with a hectic career, she felt she had no choice but to fight. And fight she did, winning the battle with the loving support of husband, children and family. Millions of fans also lent their support after she went public.
Joan realized, while undergoing treatment, that she did not know much about cancer and the impact that lifestyle choices can make. She started a new diet regimen, lost 30 pounds and managed to avoid many of the worst side-effects of chemo.
“It also reconnected me to my late father,” she mused. “He was a cancer surgeon and I feel as though I am continuing his work.”
“But then I started the battle, the fierce fight against the cancer cells and the warrior in me hoped I had what it would take to win... that when my treatments were over, the chemo, the surgery and the radiation... my disease would be gone for good, never to return.”
Joan went public with her situation and never shied away from confronting the disease. She wanted people to know what someone with cancer was going through and that there was hope. She even appeared on the cover of a national magazine au natural- not nude, but without a wig and her bald head in all its glory for all to see; and see that there was nothing to hide or be ashamed of.
A native Californian she had originally wanted to follow in her father’s footsteps as a medical doctor, inspired by the people who commented to her “Your father saved my life.”
“He was born in Australia and raised in China with his missionary parents. He became a doctor,” she continued. “I saw how he helped people and that was my life goal. I knew that I wanted to study medicine and become a doctor too.”
That lasted until she went to work in a hospital as a teenager. I graduated high school at 16 and took a job at the hospital.
“When the scalpel came out and began to cut; when I saw blood, I knew that this was not what I could do.”
Tragedy struck when Joan was only 13-years-old. Her father was a pilot and often took the family on flights to a variety of destinations and showed them how other people lived. She said it truly broadened her horizons.
“But then, as he was flying home one day,” she sadly remembered, the plane he was flying crashed and he was killed. “Life wasn’t the same but we knew that we had to go on; that he would want us to go on.”
This was in the crazy 1960s when pot, open sex and the hippie culture were rampant throughout the United States and especially on the Left Coast.
“My mother was concerned about the life I’d find on a college campus and she began researching alternatives,” Joan remembered. “She came up with something called ‘Semester at Sea’ where you spend the term on a ship sailing from country to country.”
“My mother sent in an application for me and I was accepted. I had relatives who tried to talk her out of it telling her how dangerous it was, how far from home I’d be. She told them that she knew her daughter. And off I went.”
“That cruise took me to many countries and really broadened my world view.”
Joan graduated college and worked a variety of jobs, eventually becoming a reporter for WABC-TV in New York. She earned a reputation as a hard worker who delved into a story so that she knew every aspect of it and was able to convey that to the viewing audience.
In 1976 she joined Good Morning America and co-hosted with David Hartman. That was her professional home for 17 years during which time she reported from 26 countries and covered stories ranging from presidential elections to the Olympics.
Joan has been involved in many projects over the years, her latest, the fight against cancer and the push to inform women... and men... about what they need to do for prevention and follow up.
“People think men can’t get breast cancer,” she said. “That’s not true and men should be as proactive as women in self-exams and taking care of themselves. For both a healthy diet, avoiding processed foods and exercise can help to lead a long and healthy life.”
“The key to being a survivor is not letting that fear overwhelm you. You must find the strength and courage within yourself to let go of that fear and enjoy life, otherwise that monumental battle you just fought to overcome your cancer will have been for nothing.”