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Sambolin: I feel empowered, supported in cancer fight

By Zoraida Sambolin, CNN
updated 11:14 AM EDT, Wed May 15, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • CNN's Zoraida Sambolin discloses that she has breast cancer
  • She felt empowered to reveal it after Angelina Jolie spoke out
  • She thanks family, viewers for their support

Editor's note: Zoraida Sambolin is co-anchor of CNN's "Early Start."

(CNN) -- What are the chances you walk into work and the lead story is Angelina Jolie has had a double mastectomy when you are facing one yourself?

I have been struggling for weeks with how to tell my co-workers and viewers that I have breast cancer and have chosen to have a double mastectomy. How much should I share? Will I be an emotional wreck? Do I want people feeling sorry for me?

Angelina empowered me to share my story.

I was diagnosed with breast cancer five weeks ago, on April 9. Saying it, talking about it, dealing with it has been a complicated journey. Luckily, I have a very early form of breast cancer called DCIS.

MRI scans show some questionable areas in my left breast and many in my right. After several consultations with some of the finest doctors in New York and Chicago (my hometown), volumes of research and some serious soul searching, I have chosen to have a double mastectomy.

Zoraida Sambolin is co-anchor of CNN\'s \
Zoraida Sambolin is co-anchor of CNN's "Early Start."

Angelina Jolie chose to bear her soul in writing and I chose to follow her lead in front of all our viewers Tuesday. I identified with some of the issues she candidly discussed, such as her children, her sexuality and her femininity. I never expected to share this news so publicly and I certainly did not want to become the story.

But judging from the outpouring of support, I am not alone.

I have a history of fibrocystic breast tissue, which is very dense and complicated to read in a mammogram. For years, I've had biopsies and two years ago, prior to starting at CNN, I had a lumpectomy to remove abnormal tissue that doctors thought was cancer. One doctor said that in my case cancer was a matter of when, not if.

Still, when I got the call five weeks ago, it knocked me over.

My greatest challenge was sharing the news with the people who love me. My son Nico and my daughter Sofia were the hardest. I sat with Nico, 14, and asked him what came to mind when he thought of breast cancer.

His response was a fight. I knew then he had the right attitude.

Jolie: 'I've decided to be proactive'
Empowered patient: Angelina Jolie
CNN archives: Jolie on her mom's cancer

I pulled out the book "Breast Cancer for Dummies" and explained in great detail what my diagnosis was and how I chose to treat it. He listened intently but still worried I was going to die. I explained that my decision gave me the best chance of survival long term. I promised this would not kill me.

I agonized for weeks about how to tell my daughter, and even consulted a psychologist.

Would she instantly think her breasts were sick, too? Were they? Would the information scare her and would she be overwhelmed by fear of losing me and potentially getting sick herself? I worried about nothing.

I asked her the same question I asked Nico and her response was that breast cancer makes people's hair fall out and that they get sick. I told her neither would happen to me and that I would have surgery and be back in no time. That was plenty for her.

I surprised myself by worrying about my sexuality. Logically, I knew that getting rid of all the breast tissue was the best decision for me. But would I still be attractive and desirable to my partner?

I was angry at myself for even caring about that, but I did. I was choosing reconstruction, so that to the outside world nothing would look different -- but I knew and he knew. Kenny, my fiancé, was focused on making me whole. He said nothing mattered more to him than having me alive.

Yet I still worried.

Kenny happens to be executive vice president of the Chicago White Sox and travels nonstop. But he halted his schedule so he could be by my side for every appointment and every moment of vulnerability. He held my hand and sat with me when I cried.

We have talked in great detail with doctors about the changes ahead, and privately about our personal feelings. They have been graphic, emotional conversations that have made us stronger.

Early on, a very dear friend told me very matter-of-factly to treat this cancer as a pain-in-the-ass inconvenience. Getting there takes time and, in my case, a lot of prayer and a lot of research.

I hope that every woman facing this decision takes the time to understand her options and surrounds herself with the support she needs to get through the difficult times.

There are challenges to access that need to be tackled, especially for our Latina women. There is a lot of work and I am poised for the challenge to help others like me. I am grateful for the support and information available to me. My goal is to pay my many blessings forward.

What I know, you will know. I am not yet on the other side, but judging by all the e-mails I've received from survivors, I am headed to a place that is stronger, wiser and definitely more empowered.

My final words here are thank you -- for the many blessings, thoughts, prayers and even hugs you have sent my way today.

Keep them coming!

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