Have you ever called a radio talk show program? Neither had I until I was dead tired after going through bone marrow transplant in 1999 for stage IV breast cancer. I had it out with Olympic ice skater Peggy Fleming. Well, I didn’t exactly duke it out with her, but I was very concerned about a Parade Magazine article where she was quoted as having contracted breast cancer in 1998 and now was “cured.”
Using the word “cured” really bothered me. Currently there is no known cure for breast cancer. If we had a cure, we wouldn’t be participating in a “Race for the Cure” in our communities. We also wouldn’t mourn the lives of thousands of women and men who die from the disease each annually.
I felt that Peggy Fleming’s comment might make others think if they were “cured,” they wouldn’t need regular check-ups with their surgeons or oncologists. Why spend the money if there is no chance of recurrence? Having been involved in the breast cancer community for a few years, I knew of women who had been diagnosed with early stage breast cancers, only to see cancer return decades later.
Unfortunately, there currently is no 100% preventive treatment against recurrence. One morning in October 1999, as I was dragging my chemo-drenched body out of bed, I was listening to KPCC’s “Talk of the City” broadcasting from Pasadena, CA. The guest was none other than Peggy Fleming speaking about her new autobiography. My heart started racing. This was my opportunity to give her a message.
I called in as soon as the phone number was announced and reached the phone screener immediately. As I was explaining what I wanted to talk about, I got teary-eyed and my voice cracked a few times. The screener said my topic sounded great and put me on hold.
As I was on hold, I was thinking of all the reasons why I should hang up immediately. Why was I doing this? Peggy Fleming is a nice person. Why make her feel bad? Before I could answer my own questions, I heard “We have Sandi from Laguna Niguel. What is it you’d like to talk about with Peggy Fleming?”
I swallowed hard just to keep my heart from bursting out of my throat. Citing the Parade Magazine article, I identified myself as a breast cancer survivor and said that it was a mistake for Peggy Fleming to label herself as “cured.” She responded in her usual gracious way that she had a very “curable” form of breast cancer. The host mentioned that being “cured” is a state of mind.
I interrupted by stating that if I had labeled myself as “cured” after having a “curable” form of breast cancer diagnosed four years earlier, that I may not have continued my follow-up appointments with my oncologist and may have missed the fact that breast cancer invaded my bones in 1998. I could very well be dead by now.
Ms. Fleming said she was sorry if others interpreted her comment in that same way and said she in fact was continuing her follow-up appointments. The host then talked about the importance of celebrities making accurate statements to the public.
That was about it. I know there were a few other exchanges but I can’t remember exactly what they were. I listened to the rest of the show. The other callers were “gushers.” They gushed about Peggy Fleming’s Olympic achievements and how they admired her as a person. I admire her as well but my call was the only one to challenge her public statements.
Is this a case of breast cancer survivor against breast cancer survivor? I think not. I’d like to believe it’s about educating those who should know better. It’s about taking responsibility for one’s words and actions, particularly for people in the public eye. I hope I made an impact on one individual who has the potential to help the breast cancer cause in so many ways. And, I hope that one day she and others can confidently and accurately label themselves “cured.”