Pay Attention!

Cokie Roberts had already told her bosses at ABC News that she wasn’t renewing her contract as co-anchor of “This Week with Sam Donaldson & Cokie Roberts” before her breast cancer was discovered.

Like many other women, Cokie continued to work “and put one foot in front of the other” during her treatment. But when she began to lose her hair her wig was on national television. “Particularly, if you’re a public person you need to keep a good face on,” Cokie said in a recent interview.

Cokie grew up a very public person in a high-profile New Orleans family, the youngest daughter of former ambassador and Democratic Louisiana Congresswoman Lindy Boggs and of the late Hale Boggs, majority leader of the U.S. House of Representatives. Her sister, the late Barbara Boggs Sigmund, was mayor of Princeton, N.J., and died on an unrelated melanoma. In 1990 her father was lost in a plane crash and never found.

Cokie continues her family’s high-profile as a broadcast journalist who has received many awards, including three Emmys, the Edward R. Murrow Award and the Everett McKinley Dirksen Award for coverage of Congress.

Currently, Cokie, who started working on slowing down eight years ago, is a political commentator for ABC News and NPR Senior News Analyst. She and her husband, Steven V. Roberts, write a weekly United Features syndicated column appearing in newspapers around the country. Her co-anchor role with Sam Donaldson ran from 1996 to 2002.

Cokie’s We Are Our Mother’s Daughters“ was a national bestseller.  She is also the author of “Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation, Ladies of Liberty: The Women Who Shaped Our Nation.In March, 2011, Cokie and her husband, Steven Roberts, released “Our Haggadah“ about blending faiths in a marriage.  At the book’s launch, the very interesting story of the couple’s successful merger of their Jewish and Christian beliefs played out on ABC News’ “Good Morning America.” Cokie is already researching her next book on women in Washington, D.C., during the Civil War.

While reporting and writing, Cokie and Steven were also raising a daughter and a son. Cokie has been awarded more than 20 honorary degrees, in recognition of her professional work and her volunteer activities.

One of Cokie’s nonprofit causes is raising awareness and research dollars to combat breast center. That work began about a decade before her 2002 breast cancer diagnosis.

She was motivated to join the struggle to increase research dollars the day two friends died of breast cancer on the same day.

“Between the two of them they left nine children behind. They never got to meet their grandchildren. The (memorial) masses had to be staggered so friends could attend both of them. It made me mad. One in eight women will have breast cancer. Who is next?,” said Cokie.

When Cokie went through her own breast cancer treatment of a lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiation, normalcy was everything. After most of her treatments, she came home and cooked dinner. Always a spiritual person, Cokie said, “God has always been important.”

She didn’t keep her breast cancer secret, but she didn’t want the details of her treatment played out publicly. That mean she initially told her husband not to talk about it. Then she reconsidered. “It’s very hard for men who love women with cancer. What I told my husband — you know reporters talk too much — is that he could talk to one person. He needed to express his fears.”

Even with more than 40 years in broadcasting, Cokie had a friend take her to chemo to ensure she didn’t miss important information. “It made a difference and it was actually fun. We never get that kind of time with a friend. It was useful to have someone with me to be the reporter.”

When Cokie made her decision to step down from the grind of weekly television it was because her life was “too crazy with not enough time with my grandchildren.”

She’s still balancing. “At every stage you recalculate,” Cokie says. Until September, 2010, both Cokie and Steven’s mothers were in Washington. Steven’s mother died, but “mine is going strong at 94. That’s care-taking too.”

Cokie’s family has moved closer with her daughter and her three children live in Washington, D.C., and her son and his three children in North Carolina.

Through her own experience and her work in support of breast cancer research funding, Cokie says she hopes young women are at least going to a gynecologist once a year and discussing if they are in a high risk pool.

Cokie recommends availing yourself with support groups such as a Susan G. Komen for the Cure® group. For information, she suggests going to a public library and trying to understand what is legitimate online.

“You have to pay attention to who you are. You need to know your family history as well as you can. It is important for young women to have preventive care. If you catch any women’s cancers early it’s the difference between life and death. Do you really want to leave your kids without a mother?” she asks.

Category: Survivors in the News

Tags: ABC News, author, Breast Cancer, NPR News, Our Haggadah, preventative, Steven Roberts