Katie Couric Reaches Out to other Women after her Breast Cancer Diagnosis
Katie Couric described her recent breast cancer diagnosis in a recent blog post on her website. She advocated for cancer screenings after her first husband, Jay, died of colon cancer in 1998. She even allowed the airing of her colonoscopy on the TODAY show in 2000, and colonoscopy screenings increased by 20% after that show.
So it should be no surprise that Katie Couric has chosen to use her recent diagnosis to raise awareness for breast cancer screenings. Couric especially wants to help educate women with dense breasts that they may receive additional screening in addition to mammography, just like she received.
Couric’s breast cancer diagnosis begins with a delayed mammogram.
Couric’s diagnosis starts as it does for so many women. Because of her first husband’s death from colon cancer, Couric has been an advocate for regular cancer screenings for over 20 years.
In May of 2022, she was at her gynecologist’s office for her pap smear. As Couric sat on the exam table, her gynecologist reviewed her medical chart and said, “You’re due for a mammogram.”
Couric related that she is vigilant, almost neurotic, about cancer screenings and taking care of her health since the death of her first husband from cancer. She replied, “I’ve just gotten one.”
Her physician said, “Actually, you haven’t had a mammogram since December 2020.”
Couric thought, “Wait, what? How could that be? Had the pandemic given me a skewed sense of time? Had it messed with my memory?”
So she called and scheduled a mammogram. Couric planned to film her mammogram to share with her audience. She commented, “If I had forgotten to schedule a mammogram, this might be a helpful reminder for other people, too.”
Couric asked one of the technicians to film her state-of-the-art 3D mammogram on her phone. Couric cracked jokes and made faces at her phone’s camera as each breast was placed between the two plastic trays.
Couric’s breasts are dense, so she has another breast cancer screening utilizing breast ultrasound. After applying water-soluble ultrasound gel to her breasts, her gynecologist moved the wand-like device called a transducer over both breasts. Her doctor left the room, then returned and asked that the filming stop.
The gynecologist explained, “There’s something I’d like to check out here. It could be scar tissue.” (Couric had breast reduction surgery in 2016.) “But I would feel more comfortable if I did a biopsy,” the physician explained.
Couric agreed, and her physician extracted several tissue samples and told Couric she’d be in touch.
Every cancer patient remembers the day of their diagnosis, and Couric is no different. Ironically, the biopsy results were available the next day on Couric’s 8th wedding anniversary.
That day, Couric went to her office for the first time in several months for face-to-face time with her colleagues. Her phone alerted with this text, “Please call me in the office to discuss biopsy results. I tried calling you on your cell. Your mailbox is full.”
Couric called her doctor back, and she immediately took Couric’s call, “Your biopsy came back. It’s cancer. You’re going to be fine, but we need to make a plan.”
Couric’s mind was spinning as she tried to digest the news while her memories went back to the day her late husband, Jay was diagnosed with colon cancer, “I felt sick, and the room started to spin. 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?”
Couric thought about family members who had cancer and did not survive. But then she began to think of other families who survived cancer, including her mother, who lived with mantle cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma for ten years. There was her father, whose prostate cancer was treated with radioactive seeds, and her current husband, John, who had a coconut-sized tumor removed from his liver several months before their marriage.
Couric recalls her attitude changing from disbelief to resignation. And finally, she could say, “Why not me?”
Katie Couric’s New Mission Statement.
Couric was fortunate — Stage IA, a lumpectomy with no lymph node involvement, and her Oncotype was 19, meaning that she did not need chemotherapy, just some follow-up radiation. During this time, Couric reflected on her good fortune to have access to excellent care.
“But what about other women?” she asked herself and, once again, committed herself to using her experience as another teachable moment. Couric’s key points include the following:
- Get your mammogram. If you’ve delayed it because of the pandemic, don’t delay your mammogram any longer.
- Forty-five percent of women have dense breasts — making it more difficult for a simple mammogram to show an abnormality. Women with dense breasts are also more likely to develop breast cancer. Ask your breast health provider if you need any additional screening.
- Only 38 states require that healthcare providers need to inform their patients if they have dense breasts. But there are no regulations from the FDA for providers to counsel their patients about their dense breast status. Couric hopes the FDA will propose federal legislation to make the language and guidance more specific about screening for women with dense breasts.
- Only 14 states and the District of Columbia require that insurance companies partially or fully reimburse patients for breast ultrasounds — a technology that helps detects breast cancer to be diagnosed sooner.
Let us hope we will see another “Katie Couric Effect” with women catching up on their delayed mammograms and learning more about how dense breasts increase a woman’s risk for breast cancer and make diagnosis more difficult.