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Inspiration from women I admire

By Paula Zahn
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Editor's note: Paula Zahn is an anchor for CNN's prime-time program, "Paula Zahn Now." She has more than 25 years of TV broadcasting experience and has reported on such major events as the Iraq war and the September 11, 2001, terror attacks.

(CNN) -- I feel very lucky to have been inspired by a wide range of women in my life. All of whom have taught me some very important lessons about strength, grace, adversity and growth.

My mother, of course, was my first role model. Through the years, we have been blessed with an exceptionally close relationship. As a tenured college professor fluent in five languages, a devoted mother of four and grandmother of seven, carpooler extraordinaire, artist and two-time breast cancer survivor, she has had a huge impact on my life.

She gave me the wings to dream and explore. She taught me how to "go for it" and always was standing by with outstretched arms when I failed. But perhaps her greatest influence is her attitude. She is extraordinarily positive and has never betrayed her essence, even when faced with some of life's most challenging curveballs.

Many other women have made a difference in my life. Barbara Walters, who calls herself my fairy godmother, has been a great mentor and friend. Barbara has taught the world why women in our business should be taken seriously. She's taught me about tenacity and hanging in there when the going gets tough.

There are a number of other women as well who've deeply affected me -- women who are not household names. Ann Casey Johnstone, the coach of my college golf team, is a woman who broke enormous barriers in the game of golf. She didn't have a "girl's" team to play on in college, so she joined the Mason City Junior College boy's team. A number of the men refused to play with her. Only after she established a winning streak for their team, did the men begrudgingly accept her.

She taught us that our acceptance would only come through outstanding play and that there are many challenges in life that you just can't back down from, that boldness and fire are great virtues.

Then there's my friend Beth Williams, a woman I met while on assignment for CBS News whose pregnancy I followed on-camera. She had been diagnosed with breast cancer when she was five months pregnant. Her doctors gave her the option of terminating her pregnancy because they were fearful of the impact chemotherapy might have on her embryo. Beth decided to continue with her pregnancy and her chemotherapy, and I was with her when she delivered a perfectly healthy baby boy.

Beth's bravery fighting cancer has inspired so many. It wasn't enough for Beth to tackle her disease and raise four children. Since she was diagnosed, she has fought for cancer victims in Washington and spent countless hours educating all of us about the importance of early detection and access to clinical trials. The cancer community owes her a great debt of gratitude.

And I owe a debt of gratitude to all the women who have shown me their fierce determination to thrive, survive and live lives of great meaning.

If there's one thing I've learned from these strong and compassionate women, it's that the sisterhood is critical to all of us moving ahead. We can't progress, evolve and grow in a vacuum. We need each other's support, guidance and inspiration to soar. And we need each other's appreciation of the great power that resides in our diverse and collective voices. We've come a long way baby.

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Paula Zahn says her mother Betty was her first role model.




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