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Why Amy Robach Didn’t Get Things Quite Right

Recently there have been numerous articles surfacing here and there offering commentary on ABC’s Good Morning America’s Amy Robach’s recent interviews in which she shared thoughts on her cancer experience. I didn’t think I had any more to add and maybe I really don’t, but something’s been bothering me and so I’m “writing it out” here.

You can read one of Ms. Robach’s most recent interviews (and the one I’m talking about in this post) here in it’s entirety, but the particular words in this interview that bothered, okay, irritated me most were these:

There are nearly 2 million breast cancer survivors in this country, and we are thriving, excelling, living. Yes, it is a hellish journey through surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation, and drug therapy. But you will emerge a better person. I promise. You are stronger than you think, and you will find your inner warrior. Your family and friends will marvel at your strength, and they will weep with you on those days when you just don’t want to get out of bed. It gets easier, and after this, there’s nothing you can’t do!

I realize Ms. Robach intended her message to be uplifting and supportive. I realize she has been sharing her entire experience with completely good intentions, but she sits in an important chair every morning in front of a lot of people and she’s the one who started doing the talking and sharing about her disease and thus, she opened herself up to “feedback”. In addition, she is a journalist who is supposed to stick to the facts. Has she been doing that? Many, me included, would say no she has not been.

Why didn’t she get things quite right this time?

Because every woman (and man) who has had a breast cancer diagnosis is not thriving and excelling. Heck, I don’t consider myself to be thriving. Yes, I am surviving and living most certainly and most gratefully, but thriving? Not there yet. Saying such a thing is presumptuous and even if unintentionally done, it diminishes the real experiences many survivors are struggling with each and every day.

And then there the women dealing with metastatic disease… Just read my friend Lori Marx Rubiner’s piece for that take on things, or Dr. Peter Bach’s heart-felt aricle. Both are excellent must-reads.

And to say that your family and friends will marvel at your strength – hmmm… again presumptuous, or maybe the rest of us just aren’t as strong as Ms. Robach. And as for her words, there’s nothing you can’t do (after treatment – again presuming your treatment ends), I won’t even go there. I don’t need to.

But the real kicker for me was this part:

You will emerge a better person. I promise. 

She promises you will be a better person!

Yikes, for me that’s like hearing that horrible screeching noise on a chalkboard.

Do you hear it?

This particular cancer expectation is one of my pet peeves. I wrote a post a while back called, “After a Cancer Diagnosis You’re a Better Person, Right?” I won’t repeat myself here; you can read it if you’re interested.

Bottom line is, I don’t think I am a better person because of my cancer diagnosis. I don’t believe cancer miraculously makes you better or worse.

I’ve read comments from Ms. Robach’s supporters here and there too. Many of them say things like, why can’t we just support one another? Or why do we have to pick on Amy?

No one is picking on Amy and I certainly wish her the best. I do. And again, she opened herself up to feedback and yes, criticism the minute she went public with her personal story.

And let’s not forget that Ms. Robach is getting plenty of support from family and friends (which is wonderful by the way), so we don’t need to worry much about her lacking any kind of support.

But many women (and men) do not have that kind of support and I would say it is Ms. Robach who is not supporting those individuals, not the other way around. She is the one who lumped all two million of us together and made sweeping generalizations, good-intentioned or not.

If we want to more fully support one another, let’s stop implying that every woman’s experience and every cancer situation is the same.

Because obviously they are not.

Note:  For another take on things, read this post by my friend Brandie, who blogs at A Journey of 1000 Stitches. 

How do you feel about celebrities sharing their cancer stories?

Do/did Amy Robach’s words bother you at all? 

55 thoughts to “Why Amy Robach Didn’t Get Things Quite Right”

  1. Excellent post, Nancy! And you know how I feel. The pack of 2 million “thrivers” (my word) to whom Amy refers alienates all of us who aren’t glowing thanks to our disease. And like you, I believe that Amy’s choice to address her cancer experience publicly opens up a dialogue. If she wanted a monologue she could have kept this private. And as for the “let’s just support each other…” – I was called out in the comment section of my blog for making someone, presumably early stage treatment for “making (her) fight harder” by sharing the facts. Am I supposed to die quietly? Not gonna happen…

    1. Lori, Yes, I do know how you feel and I feel much the same way. It’s probably never a good idea to lump everyone together, but in this case doing so was inaccurate and insensitive IMO and as you said, alienating for some. A person in the public eye needs to be extra mindful of how she says things. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  2. This was a completely surrealistic interview of hers. She must have been one of those who had no complications, there is no reality to her story. I know I have had, and still have severe complications, and I am at a point where I “shouldn’t” have any problems, and I have plenty. More complications from chemo, from the serious infection I had and was forced to return to surgery two weeks after mastectomy “or” breast amputation. I have heard so many “fairy tale” stories like hers and wonder why I have had so much trouble, but my difficulties are normal, as I see it and theirs is some “pep rally” talk. I hate that, tell me the truth or tell me nothing, thank you. I believe we have many disappointed people who saw the “Run for the Fun” commercials on television, bought all kinds of “pink ribbon” garb. That’s my opinion.

    1. Fran, You make a good point there, the “fairy-tale”-type stories can make some feel as if they aren’t measuring up or are failing even. Your experience has been difficult and not because of anything you did or did not do. And yes, the pep rally talk does get old sometimes, though for some it works. Thanks for sharing your opinions.

    2. I had a lot of complications too, and I remember thinking at the time (okay, I actually said it while crying and feeling really low) “I can’t even do cancer right!” It was hard. I’m sorry you are dealing with it too. And I think our side of the story needs to be told and shared too. I live in the real world, not a fairy tale. There are ups and downs. I will honor them all!

      1. Brandie, It is hard. And when someone in the public eye makes it all seem too easy or makes sweeping generalizations, that’s doing a dis-service to many.

  3. I mostly ignore any “celebrity” who claims to have cancer. I learned that they have no clue to what it’s truly like for an everyday woman. We do not have access to the best care most times, we do not have countless “friends” to wish us well. We do not have the financial resources to hire help. On and in, it’s all a sugar coated bunch of crap.

    1. Dawn, A cancer diagnosis is difficult for anyone, no matter what her/his societal status is, but you’re right of course, the ordinary person’s experience is far different from that of a celebrity’s. You might be making the right call when you do that ignoring thing…Thanks for sharing.

  4. As one of the 2 million, I am not stronger, I am not thriving, I am not better. For what I have been through, I am doing very well according to my doctors, so I do not believe I am an exception. I am grateful to be alive.

    But, I get very tired of those who are always rah-rah, like breast cancer survival is a high school pep rally. (My high school would win like 1 football game per season, so I never saw the point of those either. No one had pep rallies for the music program and we actually brought home awards.)

    Although I do not wish ill on anyone, I am wondering when there will be the
    celebrity who will be doing their shows with a lymphedema sleeve, who will be having hot flashes from tamoxifen or an AI in the middle of an interview, or who will have to give up heels and dancing from chemo neuropathy.

    1. Elizabeth, I always love the way you make your points when commenting. Interesting middle paragraph there in more ways than one. And yes, your last paragraph says a lot too. Let’s be real. Let’s talk about and show reality, not fluffed up versions. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts.

  5. Wonderful post (again) and I share your sentiments precisely. I was diagnosed 2 years ago, Stage 2 ILC/IDC. NED Since then I find the two most difficult terms to embrace are ‘breast cancer survivor’ and ‘(insert whatever here) saved my life’. Maybe I think it’s presumptuous of me to claim either when I am so uncertain about my future. I just say I have breast cancer. This drives one of my sisters crazy. She wants me to embrace all things pink and positive, but I tell her biology will trump psychology in this game. I also now know so many women who stood strong against this disease, for as long as they could, but are silent now. Saying I am a survivor feels to close to mocking these friends lives (I’m a survivor and you aren’t). This is just my personal response to the terms. Funny though, I don’t mind the term survivorship. To me it is descriptive of the process of handling cancer, right up until the end. And I have a plan for that.
    I try to keep remembering everyone has a unique cancer identity. But people with big microphones or special influence have a special duty to stay away from generalizing their personal experiences and reactions to their cancer diagnosis, treatment, recovery and survivorship. They do not ‘know’ anything more than you or me, and probably a lot less.
    Amy is handling cancer her way and I wish her the best. However, I hope she’s careful not to step outside of her area of real expertise and promote The Cancer World According Amy too often.
    Jane

    1. Jane, I feel pretty much the same way you do about the term survivor, although I still use it because nothing else fits much of the time. And yet, survivorship works fine for me too. Go figure… We all wish Amy the best. Fair or not, her words have clout due to her large audience, so she needs to choose them carefully when speaking about breast cancer. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  6. Excellent! I always feel, when I’m watching a ‘celebrity’ cancer patient, that their entire world is so different than the average person – therefore their experience with a life changing illness will be different too. I doubt they are up all night worrying about how they will pay their bills or who will watch their kids while they are in treatment. They have resources that many of us only dream about. The little things in life for them can be huge for the rest of us. And those ‘little’ things begin to add up and they can completely overwhelm you. And like you -I won’t even touch the broad, generalized statements that just stop short of calling cancer a gift. Oiy!

    Great post as always, Nancy! Thanks so much for your insight.

    1. Jenn, Gosh, in a way her words did almost border on that didn’t they? Coming out as a new and improved version of your former self sounds too much like the gift thinking for my liking. I didn’t even go there in this post, though I was tempted. You’re right about the little things adding up and becoming over-whelming for many, which is one reason (of many possible ones) that some are not particularly thriving. Thanks for reading and chiming in on this one.

  7. Any was fortunate, and she wrote from her own personal experience. That is what happened to her. She is trying to be encouraging to others, and the truth is she was pretty fortunate to find out when she did that she was so ill. I think she made some assumptions, but lets give her the benefit of the doubt. I believe, after reading her entire article and not just the inflammatory excerpt, that she meant no harm. Quite the opposite. And she may be oblivious to IBC and other kinds of cancer that are are not so easily beaten. Weren’t we ALL oblivious to IBC and/or the devastation of breast cancer before it invaded our lives? All the same, if I were in her journalistic shoes, I would take this opportunity to learn more about different kinds of breast cancer. I would want to open the lines of communication, invite others to share their cancer journeys. Tell the whole story, and not just her story. But that’s just me. Perhaps for Amy, putting it behind her with strong words of encouragement and faith in strength and bravery, “fighting like a girl”, is nothing more than her deeply held wish for a healthy, cancer free future. None of us wishes for all less. I hope for that. <3

    1. Michelle, I completely agree that Ms. Robach meant no harm. In fact, the opposite is true. I believe her intentions are totally good. I also agree that she has been trying to be encouraging to others, but some of her statements are not accurate and are in fact insensitive as well. I don’t really care about her “fighting like a girl” mantra, which is why I didn’t even bring that up. Like you, I also hope she uses her journalistic shoes as an opportunity to open up some truly meaningful dialogue about the entire spectrum of this disease. She has an opportunity to do a lot of good. And let’s not forget our sisters with mets. Ms. Robach seems to have forgotten about them in her sweeping generalization. Thanks for sharing your insights with us.

  8. I actually do think that there could be a point in this cancer garbage, particularly at the start, where it is reassuring to hear someone say, “You’ll be okay. In fact, you’ll be even better than you are right now.” So for all those people utterly shocked and terrified at their diagnosis, I reckon Amy’s words were the ones they needed to hear.

    The reality of breast cancer doesn’t stay hidden forever to those dx, and of course I do NOT like it being implied that those with mets don’t want it enough. But, I do think there is a time when we need to hear that “we can do it” & that we can make it, particularly at the start.

    Also, she’s on a show that is not about journalism in hard-hitting sense, it’s mostly about feeling good, no? So, no surprise that’s the story she feels necessary to present.

    So, I guess that isn’t general consensus – and I won’t claim to like her statement entirely . ..I can, however, understand why she may have chosen that message.

    1. Catherine, You’re right, Ms. Robach is on a non hard-hitting news show, but it is a news show none-the-less. The opportunity is there for communicating so much more to her viewers than little snippets. I hope she does that. I think we can all understand why she may have chosen that message I highlighted, but I found it to be very generalizing, inaccurate and almost patronizing. And that “you’ll be a better person, I promise” thing… that was down-right irritating to me. You’re much more kind! Kudos to you! Thanks for reading and adding to this discussion.

    1. Kate, Yes, in that statement she seemed to have forgotten about all the women (and men) living with mets…You’re so right. Opportunity lost. Thanks for chiming in.

  9. As someone who is coming from a place of grief this makes me angry. Yes, angry. And it’s hurtful.

    My sister spent 3 looong, extremely painful hard years fighting her cancer to leave her two young girls motherless. In the end she could not walk, eat, drink and was in so much pain she couldn’t be touched. Yet she fought to her very last breath.

    IF she emerged a better person on the other side, it’s not here on earth.

    I do know women who caught it early and it was easy, a simple surgery and some drug therapy. But re-occurence happens. My aunt had to go on disability b/c the chemo so effected her ability to function she couldn’t work anymore.

    I’m glad this author had such a great personal experience….but she shouldn’t promise 2 million survivors the same thing.

    1. Sue, I’m very sorry about your sister and about your aunt’s challenges too. I know what it’s like to watch your loved one suffer. My mother died from metastatic breast cancer, too, and it was very difficult for her at the end, just as it was for your sister. This is another reason I wrote this post, obviously everyone is not and does not thrive post diagnosis. And then the better person promise, well… Anyway, thank you for sharing your viewpoint on this and again, I’m sorry.

  10. Wow. Another brilliant and powerful discussion – thank you Nancy. Lumping millions of different unique people together into one homogenous group is never wise … and speaking as if with their one unified voice is downright foolish. I think she meant well, but sadly such insensitivity can do more harm than good as it alienates as much as it inspires.

    1. Rethink Street, I have no doubt that Ms. Robach meant and means well, but she needs to step it up a bit IMO as far as accuracy goes, or else keep quiet. And the sweeping generalizations were out of line. Thanks for reading and taking time to comment too.

  11. Very well said… What always amazes me with celebrities is that when they finish treatment there cancer is GONE!! It has all been such a wonderful experience!!!! Those of us in the real world know reality is quite different to this… Thanks Nancy

    1. Helen, I know, right? That does seem to often be the case. And being expected to be a better, stronger, new and improved version of our former selves feels like another obligation to try to live up to… Thanks for reading and sharing.

  12. Great post, Nancy. What celebrities say seems to carry a lot of weight in our society–maybe especially those who report about the news. Their speaking out really does open them up to feedback, and they should be held accountable. And it’s irritating to see an opportunity to educate and inform squandered.

  13. Great insight Nancy.

    As someone who has battled Breast cancer 3 times, the latest being the worst of all, Inflammatory Breast Cancer, I find these celebrity pieces quite infuriating.

    Her, Guiliana Rancic, etc. seem to now be defined as LOOK! Breast Cancer Survivor! It’s on my resume! I’m thrilled they did not have adverse outcomes, but please. Rancic was just recently the Keynote person at a Survivors Conference. Are you kidding me?

    And for Amy to say we will be BETTER from it? I wanted to slap a puppy! (Just kidding!)

    I’m not better person; I’m a broken person trying to stay alive with a laundry list of bonus ailments cancer/chemo/radiation/AI’s have given me. I’m not a thriver; I call myself a ‘liver’, because I’m alive.

    They are given a grand forum from which they could help others. Yet all I see is the continuation of the Pinkwashing of this disease.

    1. Debbi, I hear you. I think it’s fine when celebrities share. The problem is when they make it all look so easy and fail to share about the full spectrum of this disease. Maybe that’s expecting too much, but I feel when you are in the spotlight, you do have greater responsibility to tell a complete story, to refrain from making sweeping generalizations and to share accurate and complete information. Thanks for adding to this discussion.

  14. Thanks for writing about this, Nancy! It’s important that people like Amy who are in influential positions not get too giddy about cancer.

    The thing is, Amy is still very much in WishfulThinkingLand, where the currency is positive thinking, and the cheerleaders do the “say-it-is-so, therefore-it-IS-so!” rah-rah chant. It’s a form of denial.

    It is early days still for Amy. She doesn’t know yet what we do about cancer and its razor-sharp claws.

    PS: Heaven forbid any outspoken celeb has a recurrence… I doubt they will be singing the “I am a better person for it!” tune.

    1. Renn, I agree. Yes she is in the early stages of it all, but still, she is also in the public eye as a journalist no less, and with that comes responsibility. I cannot accept the fact that she basically tuned out all metastatic survivors, as well as many others, who are not thriving. And promising you will be a better person…that’s one of my pet peeves – as you probably know. Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts.

  15. dear Nancy,

    I agree with Renn about wishful thinking and the early days after treatment concludes. I was like that – I knew nothing about METs until I wandered into the BC blogosphere; ironically, I presented as METS! I remember how I felt – horrified, terrified, and completely stripped of all naivete – only 2 months after my treatment concluded and I was deemed NED. I was devastated – but with time I made a conscious decision not to turn away, but to accept and embrace the transition to reality.

    though I completely agree that celebs who have a national/international platform have a responsibility to be accurate and to not making sweeping statements (YOU will emerge a better person. I PROMISE???) I also think the “timing” element is a factor. Amy, like me and millions of other men/women often don’t emerge into the real world of BC/MBC for some time. and though I would not wish that horrible “bubble burst” process on anyone, if one speaks unilaterally and imposes their views, feelings, and “promises” with far-reaching media, it’s too bad there isn’t a “BC/MBC Whisper-er” to reign them in.

    thank you for a most thought provoking and insightful conversation.

    much love,

    Karen

    1. Karen, I think timing is okay to use as an “excuse” for most of us, but not when you’ve got such a public platform. Maybe it’s unfair of me to expect more. I guess I’m not as patient as you are. I certainly don’t wish Ms. Robach’s bubble to burst either, but what about all the others out there whose bubble has burst and she pretty much dismissed them? As always, your insights are welcome. Thank you.

  16. You make so many great points here, Nancy. I plan on sharing this with my readers later this week.

    I want celebrities to share their cancer experiences. I want them to use their respective stages to talk about the disease and the difficulties of treatment and the aftermath of surgery and advocate! Unfortunately, I can’t think of one right now who has done that. We all know how ugly cancer gets and I feel that a celebrity who wants to maintain their image will really never reveal the truth of their experience.

    1. Wendy, I want that too! I actually think Angelina Jolie did a pretty good job, not perfect by any means, but pretty good. I believe when that celebrity does come forth at some point sharing her whole truth – including the ugly side of things – she will actually see her image improve, for lack of a better way to put it. People crave truth and honesty in all things, including the cancer experience. Thanks for reading, commenting and sharing.

  17. Robach got it wrong on so many levels. Like you, I wish her the best, but she made these sweeping generalizations, platitudes, that have no bearing on reality.

    I’m tired of seeing patients with metastatic disease getting swept under the red carpet. I guess it’s not as glam as being a “warrior” and “conquering” the disease known as breast cancer.

    And the better person comment is my pet peeve too.

    Oh, and about survivors “thriving” — I’m enduring each day, some days with a lot of effort. Just last night I had a panic attack thinking that I might still one day get cancer again — either a recurrence or a new cancer, thanks to the toll of chemotherapy and radiation.

    There is no happy ending when it comes to this disease.

    1. Beth, Yes, Ms. Robach’s spin on cancer is a bit too rosy and erasing those who are struggling is insensitive. Thank you for sharing and I’m sorry to hear about that panic attack. xxx

  18. Just watched video of GMA interview about her new haircut. “No one can tell you whether you will lose your hair from chemo. For me, because I was young, they thought I would keep some of it.” No. Every woman on AC chemo loses her hair, as I did. She is not an expert on all cases and shouldn’t speak as if she is.

    It’s much harder to be bald than to have a short haircut. She didn’t give any inkling that there is another experience out there. She had 8 rounds of I’m not sure what. Many have 16 rounds or more of harsh chemos.

    1. Jennifer, I didn’t see that video. I haven’t actually been following Ms. Robach closely because frankly, I never watch the network morning “new” shows. I find them annoying mostly. Nobody can speak for others. Nobody is an expert on all cases. Being in the public eye as Ms. Robach is, requires more mindfulness about this simple truth IMO. Thank you for reading and sharing.

  19. Just wanted to say thank you for sharing my post.
    Obviously, I agree that she got it wrong and I want to the world to see all sides of this cancer story!
    I’m glad you (and other bloggers) paved the way to allow me to do that! Thank you!

    1. Brandie, Thank you for your post. It really got me thinking about this. All stories, angles and experiences need to be seen and heard. I couldn’t agree more and it’s part of the reason I do what I do and keep doing it. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  20. Thriving, NOT! In constant pain daily, YES and it’s been almost 2 years since mastectomy! I wish they knew how horrible they make the rest of our “group” feel? For me, also left with massive problems from lyme disease, celebrities talk about how easy that cure was to find! PLEASE give a clue to the rest of us “normal folk” to find these miracle Drs that don’t exist in my world!

  21. I hate the battle cliches attached to breast cancer. I am not, nor was I ever, a “warrior”.

    I got misdiagnosed at first because I was “too young” to have breast cancer. By the time it was caught a year later it had progressed to stage three. My hair didn’t grow back after chemo (I’m so jealous of my chemo buddies’ luscious hair!) and three years later I just finished reconstruction. My daughter was two when I was diagnosed– she’s never known life without a sick mommy.

    My point is, I feel like cancer is something that happened to me and I just got through it because there is no other alternative. I didn’t “fight”, I wasn’t “brave” or “strong”. I cried, I felt ugly, I thought my husband would never be attracted to me again. I went through the loss and the procedures just like the rest of us must to live. I am no warrior. I am a woman who had a rotten thing happen and lived through it. To imply that those of us who live through it are somehow fighting harder than those who don’t is wrong, hurtful and comes from a true lack of understanding IMO.

  22. Nancy, I just finished listening to Amy Robach’s book better. I have always admired Amy and watch her every morning on Good Morning America. I found her book to be unrealistic for so many people that struggle with not only cancer but any type of serious illness. Amy has many privileges that so many (if most) of women do not have. Some of her coping mechanisms were based on financial abundance such as trips – India, Italy; purchasing a new home; family members and colleagues who are in the medical fields (no charge for advise, copayments, etc.). A very good friend of mine has struggled with cancer and it affected not only her health – but her finances drastically. While Amy has had the good fortune of assets with different characteristics – unfortunately so many of the women struggling with this disease and other diseases are not of the same world.

    1. Deborah, Thank you for sharing your thoughts on Amy’s book. I haven’t read it and I’m not sure I will. I have a hard time getting past the title.

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