The Rapidian

Spectrum Health hosts Candid Conversations with Amy Robach, Susan Ford Bales

Keynote speaker and "Good Morning America" news anchor Amy Robach openly spoke about her breast cancer diagnosis and her outlook on life.
One of two large screens showing Amy Robach and Janelle Logan, Spectrum Health director of community engagement, on stage.

One of two large screens showing Amy Robach and Janelle Logan, Spectrum Health director of community engagement, on stage. /Ana Olvera

Spectrum Healthy Betty Ford Breast Care Services

80 68th St SE
Grand Rapids, MI 49548
Text "CANDID" to 74700 to receive four breast health texts throughout the year.
For more information, visit Betty Ford Breast Care Services.

/Ana Olvera

Tammy Brink, left, and her mother Karen Brink drove from Holland, Mich. to attend Candid Conversations.

Tammy Brink, left, and her mother Karen Brink drove from Holland, Mich. to attend Candid Conversations. /Ana Olvera

Women in the U.S. have a one in eight chance of developing breast cancer during their lifetime, and yet Karen Brink, a 27-year breast cancer survivor, remembers a time when breast cancer wasn’t openly discussed.

“Nobody talked about it really,” says Brink. “You didn’t talk about breasts or anything like that in public, or even in your own family.”

Brink and her daughter Tammy Brink, both Holland residents and breast cancer survivors, drove to Grand Rapids to attend Candid Conversations, an event sponsored by Betty Ford Breast Care Services, on Wednesday, October 8. Special guests included Susan Ford Bales and ABC’s “Good Morning America” news anchor Amy Robach. The event was hosted at Devos Place across from the Gerald R. Ford Museum.

Former First Lady Betty Ford brought breast cancer awareness to the national spotlight in 1974 after publicly announcing her diagnosis of breast cancer. Ford’s openness about her condition brought attention to not only breast cancer as a whole, but also the importance of early detection.

Since Ford, other public figures have gone public with their diagnosis of and fight against breast cancer, including keynote speaker Amy Robach. Last fall, Robach had a mammogram screening on-air as part of “Good Morning America Goes Pink Day,” a special for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Robach was hesitant at first about experiencing her first mammogram in front of millions of viewers. But after a talk with Good Morning America (GMA) co-anchor and breast cancer survivor Robin Roberts, and the realization that a life could be saved by raising public awareness, Robach made up her mind.

“I knew what I was going to do,” Robach said during her speech to kick off Candid Conversations. “I knew I was go to get a mammogram. [But] I never worried for one second about the results.”

Robach received a call afterward saying more testing needed to be done. On October 30, 2013, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. After going public with her diagnosis, Robach began receiving messages from viewers explaining how her on-air mammogram inspired them to get screened - some even finding out they, too, had breast cancer.

“I think [Betty Ford] really started a lot of good,” says Karen Brink. “With Robin Roberts and Amy [Robach] talking about it on television, it gets a lot of people thinking.”

Karen Brink recalls hearing one of Betty Ford’s talks on breast cancer and being motivated to get a mammogram screening after one of her coworkers told her she had been diagnosed with breast cancer.

“So within a month or two I went to my doctor and I said ‘I’ve never had a mammogram, [and] I’m 46 [years old],’” she says. “And here I go and they find out that I have cancer. It’s interesting how that goes - just ‘cause somebody said something to me about it to get it checked.”

During her speech, Robach explained her journey so far battling and surviving breast cancer: what it was like going to work in between rounds of chemotherapy, how she managed to save up energy to still be lively around her children and how she figured out when to start counting her years of breast cancer survival.

Robach’s physical challenges of breast cancer may be behind her, like undergoing a mastectomy and chemotherapy, but she says “it’s never really over.”

“The truth is, the mental part of this disease I’m still figuring out,” says Robach. “Now you have to figure out how to live without letting fear take over and letting fear cripple you, and instead finding a way to not die before you die.”

Robach says she’s great about 98 percent of the time, adding she’s never met a happier group of people than breast cancer patients.

“We’re always smiling,” says Robach. “But we have our days. It really struck me at the end of the summer in August.”

Robach spotted a group of older men and women, in their 70s or 80s she guessed, with their grandchildren while on a ferry to Rhode Island.

“All of a sudden a dark thought popped into my head,” says Robach. “I said to myself, ‘I wonder if I’m ever going to be old.'”

Karen Brink’s daughter Tammy Brink is in her second year of being a breast cancer survivor, but she still wonders what her future might hold for her as well.

“I’m not as lonely in struggling so much, but I’m just always wondering what the future still may be,” says Tammy Brink, who underwent a lumpectomy after being diagnosed with breast cancer. “You’re not even at the five year mark so you’re always wondering what if.”

Robach shared that last week Robin Roberts asked her if she had experienced her “day” yet, the day she forgot or didn’t think about cancer. She replied that she hadn’t yet, but is “very much looking forward to that day.”

Tammy Brink says she hasn’t forgotten about cancer yet either.

“I haven’t forgotten ‘cause you’re always having to go to the doctor with it,” she says. “You have that reminder. But [the day I forget about cancer] will come.”

Getting women to think about breast cancer and taking action for early detection was the goal throughout the event.

“My message is for everyone woman out there: get your mammograms,” Robach said. “Get them every year. Cancer is not something you can ignore. It doesn’t go away; it just gets worse.”

Bales echoed Robach’s message, urging women to take action.

“Don’t leave here as listeners,” said Bales. “Leave here as doers. You have the power do something to defeat breast cancer.”

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