Robach shares how Robin Roberts’ walked her to her first chemo treatment, reveals her first phone call post-diagnosis, and details her newfound balance for life — and words she no longer tolerates in her vocabulary.
The 10th Annual Breast Cancer Summit—a free community service program of Long Island Plastic Surgical Group (LIPSG)—attracted 400 people interested in learning more about breast cancer treatment, recovery, and reconstruction at the Royalton Mansion in Roslyn Heights.
“As a practice committed to helping breast cancer patients, we understand the physical and emotional toll this illness takes on an individual and their family,” began Tommaso Addona, MD, FACS, and President of LIPSG. “For that reason, we believe bringing medical leaders, patients, and community members together to share information and provide support, is essential to creating positive change.”
After a two-year hiatus, medical leaders from the tri-state area spoke on crucial topics such as surgical and reconstructive options for patients, screenings, the pandemic’s impact on cancer care, and emotional healing. “After having to pause our annual Breast Cancer Summit for the last two years, it has been wonderful to safely resume the initiative,” said Tommaso Addona, MD, FACS, and President of LIPSG. “It is no secret that the tri-state area is deeply affected by this illness, and we are proud to give back to our community in this way.”
The program was hosted by WABC-TV Eyewitness News’ investigative reporter, Kristin Thorne. Co-anchor of ABC News’ GMA3: What You Need to Know and 20/20, NYT Bestselling author and breast cancer survivor, Amy Robach, gave the highly anticipated keynote titled, “My Breast Cancer Journey: From Fighter to Thriver,” where she spoke candidly about her diagnosis, how her illness affected her both personally and professionally and how it completely transformed her.
HIGHLIGHTS FROM AMY ROBACH’S KEYNOTE:
Amy Reveals The Day She Considers Her “Survival Anniversary”: “So this is always a big month for me. I’m two weeks shy of celebrating nine years of survival. I was always trying to figure out where I started counting. People will tell you their years, if you’re a breast cancer survivor, you’ll know people always just share their year. And I always wondered where you started counting from. And one woman told me that she started counting the day she found her cancer because that’s the day she started surviving. And so that’s the day I choose: October 30th.
Amy On How Robin Roberts Convinced Her To Get A Mammogram At Age 40: “I wasn’t planning on getting my mammogram until I was 50, because that’s what the US preventive task force tells us, right? If you’re a woman of average risk, meaning you have no family history, you should wait until you’re 50. So I thought, Why would I do it in front of 5 million people? Seems strange. She [my producer] implored me to talk to Robin Roberts, my friend and colleague, and of course, a breast cancer thriver. And I went into her office and I said, Robin, they’re asking me to do this live mammogram in the middle of Times Square. And she looked at me and she laughed. She goes, Oh, you’re the one they picked. I was like, Right, exactly. Why me? And I explained to her that I had no connection to breast cancer whatsoever, and it just felt false. And she looked at me and she said, You know what? I know exactly why you’re the one who we chose because you think cancer can’t happen to you, and I’m sure you’re fine, but that’s exactly what we’re trying to explain to women, that anybody is susceptible. And when she told me that more than 80% of breast cancer patients survivors had no family history, I was floored…In fact, I would’ve assumed that would’ve been flipped. And she told me, ‘If you walk into that mammo van, you will save a life.’ And I remember I gave her a hug. I said, Can I hug you? Because I can’t believe you just convinced me to do something that I was absolutely not going to do. So thank you. It’s the right call. I think most of us get into this business, a journalist, despite what maybe public opinion may think, to create change, to open people’s minds and hearts.”
Amy On Her Reaction To Hearing Her Breast Cancer Diagnosis: “I don’t know how anybody handles finding out that they had cancer. I apparently was not one of the more stoic ones. I mean, I absolutely lost it. To say I was shocked is an understatement. I don’t know that anyone’s prepared to hear it, but I really thought it was impossible. But when you hear those words, I mean, I went into full convulsions and sobbing, and it’s just this overwhelming feeling of I’m going to die.”
Amy On The First Phone Call She Made Upon Learning Her Diagnosis:“She [my mom] was the first phone call I made, and it was the shortest phone call we ever had. I remember just saying, You know, Mom, I have breast cancer. And she said, Your dad and I are getting on a plane. We will see you in a few hours. And they showed up in my New York City apartment that night, and they didn’t leave for eight months in my New York City apartment.”
On The Words That Gave Her Strength Before Her First Chemo Treatment:“She [Robin Roberts] said: you’ve got this. And it’s amazing what those words mean in those moments to hear “you’ve got this”. And to see someone who went through not just once, but twice, and was standing there vibrant and, beautiful and strong and, and about to go interview the Pope. You know, it was a moment for me that just gave me the strength, the emotional strength I really needed at that time. Because you’re so fragile. Fear is such a powerful thing, and it’s crippling at first. It just is. And so to have those, those small acts of kindness, that was probably more than just a small act of kindness, because she really squeezed me in.”
On How Her Diagnosis Has Given Her Perspective: “Ultimately, cancer did change me for the better. And the number one thing we all take away, I think, is that it’s just a gift to be alive. And that is the ultimate teacher, right? Cancer patients know that more than anyone. I’ve never met more joyful people with bigger smiles than other cancer patients and survivors and thrivers, because we get it. I mean, all of us know intellectually that we’re all headed in the same direction, that we’re all one day closer to our death. But cancer patients and survivors are aware of it every single day. We don’t forget. And that’s actually a gift. It really is. It is an incredible life lesson because when you’re fighting for your life, you’re really living from moment to moment. And that is actually something we should all be doing anyway.”
On Her New Found Balance For Life: “I have an absolute newfound balance in these past few years. I used to let my work define me. I love what I do, but it can be overwhelming and all encompassing and truly make you feel your value is based on how you’re doing at work. That’s a crazy notion. Once you go through something like this, the first thing I changed is now I take all my vacation days I never did before. In fact, I somehow thought it was like a badge of honor to leave vacation days. There’s just such a rejiggering of priorities. I love my children and I always like to be the mom I wanted to be, but now it’s the quality of time, as well as the quantity of time. It’s just taking that time to hug them to say, I love you.”
On The Words She’s Since Tried To Eliminate From Her Vocabulary: “The other thing I’ve really tried to do is take out of my vocabulary: ‘what if’; ‘if only’; or ‘should’, because those are things that just make you suffer. Let’s just, you know, accept where we are, accept how we feel, but not try to make things different than what they are. Acceptance is such a huge part of this journey.”
On What She Does For Fun: “I love hiking. I love climbing. I’ve really embraced this concept called ‘level two fun’. Have you guys heard of it? Level two fun is miserable while it’s happening, like my marathon. But in retrospect it’s amazing. You’re so proud of it, and that’s when I run to fun. You can celebrate. Level one fun is just fun all the time — you’re enjoying it while you’re doing it.
That “No” Is A Complete Sentence: “When you go through this journey, you think: what is the most precious thing? We have time and that is the one thing we don’t get back. And you realize that, and it is such a commodity. So you start learning to say no. And you don’t even really need to explain yourself. You could say, No, thank you, but you don’t need to explain why. The answer is no. And I’ve really found a way to prioritize how I spend my time and who I spend my time with. And that has been incredibly valuable.”
On Her Number One Priority: “How can I enjoy my day to day? And whether it’s giving joy to others or finding joy for myself, whatever it is, that is my number one priority now. And it used to not be, it was like, what do I have to do, make my to-do list? And then you get bogged down on all the things that you have to do instead of what do you want to do? At least get one thing in there that you really want to do and prioritize that. I think that’s a game changer.”
On The Gift That Cancer Gave Her: “Cancer took so much away from me. I don’t even need to go down the list, I think we all know in this room, but it gave me back awareness. There is no such thing as security. We’re all looking for that, but it doesn’t actually exist. And once you admit that and live with that knowledge, fear is powerless because you’re like, Yep, you’re right. I don’t decide 99.9% of what happens to me. Death is the ultimate teacher. It truly is. And when we face it and when we can truthfully acknowledge that it’s in all of our futures, instead of fearing the end, we can enhance living in the now.”
- The Impact of the Pandemic on Cancer Care: The Importance of Maintaining the Screening Protocolby Rajasree Roy, MD, Cancer Institute at St. Francis Hospital
- A Survivor’s Story: The Patient Perspectiveby Bridget DeSimone
- Emotional Healing for Breast Cancer Patients and Survivorsby Angela Papalia, LMSW, Assistant Director of Adelphi Breast Cancer Support Program
- Panel Discussion: Breast Reconstructionby the doctors at Long Island Plastic Surgical Group, PC
- Supportive Oncologyby Priya A. Pinto, MD, Associate Professor, Learning Community Facilitator, Department of Medicine at NYU Long Island School of Medicine
- Surviving Cancer: Empowering Cancer Patients with Nutrition and Healthy Lifestyle byWendy Kaplan, MS, RDN, CSO, CDES, CDN, Registered Dietician Nutritionist, New York Cancer & Blood Specialists
ABOUT LONG ISLAND PLASTIC SURGICAL GROUP
Beginning in 2023, which will mark the 75th year of LIPSG, the practice will be rebranded to New York Plastic Surgical Group. This name change reflects the growth and expansion of the practice beyond Long Island. The practice currently comprises 24 plastic surgeons. Having performed over 10,000 breast reconstruction procedures and being the oldest and largest private and academic plastic surgery practice in the United States, LIPSG has committed to provide education, create awareness, and take leadership on breast cancer and reconstruction. LIPSG’s main facility is located in Garden City, NY, and the practice has additional offices in East Hills, Babylon, Manhattan, Brooklyn, Flushing, Huntington, Westchester, and Connecticut. LIPSG also operates Deep Blue Med Spa, which offers clinically proven skin rejuvenation procedures, and Dr.STITCH, a 24/7 on-call service and hotline. LIPSG surgeons also do extensive international charity surgery work through their support of ReSurge International.
Quotes and Photos, Courtesy of: LONG ISLAND PLASTIC SURGICAL GROUP