We are waging a war here. Like any major military campaign, we need the attack power of many different armies. Clearly, our voices grow louder and our messages intensify when we work together, not apart in this common cause. This global partnership that is the World Summit Against Cancer is a perfect example of uniting our efforts and integrating our knowledge.
My diagnosis of breast cancer nearly three years ago stunned me. Having no family history of breast cancer, and having always been conscious about my diet and exercise, I had a false sense of security about cancer. “It won’t happen to me,” I thought. Well, you know what? It did. And when I heard that horrific word, I was confused, angry and temporarily disconnected from the reality of it. I feared for my life, and then for my career, which — whether justified or not — is intimately linked to beauty and wholeness.
But I learned that it helps to turn fear into action. In the war against cancer, we have the ability to arm ourselves with knowledge. Education is a powerful tool, and we are blessed to have information at our fingertips in this electronically connected world. We also have experts such as you who know the science, who push yourselves to the cutting edge of medicine in order to bring greater knowledge and treatment options to cancer patients. We also can take action by getting screened for some cancers, eating healthy diets and exercising. Taking that action and doing something positive ultimately replaces fear with hope.
Another way to take action and cope is to join the fight and help spread the word about cancer. People need to know that cancer does not have to be a death sentence. Education and prevention really can make a difference. In my case, I made a conscious decision to expose my diagnosis to the public and allow it to serve as a learning experience not just for me, but also for thousands of women who can and will benefit from mammograms. My cancer was detected early because of a mammogram. I knew that the message of early detection was crucial.
Going public with my diagnosis was a gamble because, as I said, in my business, appearance is everything. And, unfortunately, cancer still carries a stigma, which certainly is compounded in the entertainment industry. But I have always been a truthful person, so it took only a short time to realize that my illness could do a lot of people a lot of good. I realized that if I could save just one life, my shared diagnosis would be worthwhile. In fact, reaching out to others has been instrumental in my recovery from breast cancer. Knowing that I was not alone, being able to share my fears and hopes with others, and talking with both women and men about the impact of cancer on all of our lives made me feel like I was an integral part of the crusade. It gave me purpose.
Another saving grace in my recovery was the relationship I developed with my medical team, which included my gynecologist, oncologist, nurse, radiologist and radiation technician. Because of their team approach to my case, each player was properly informed about every decision and issue relating to my health. Then, that information was passed along to me, not as the observer, but as an active participant in the process. Throughout my lumpectomy and nine weeks of radiation therapy, I never doubted that I was in the right hands. Even when my immune system was attacked and I developed several skin diseases, including chicken pox. I was made to feel like my case was unique and my feelings were special, not because I was a celebrity, but because I was a human being. They gave me what every person around the world deserves: comfort, courage, respect and the best that modern medicine had to offer. I want to keep up the good fight, continue carrying important messages, and be around when we win this crusade against cancer. Ours is a mighty battle, but one worth every ounce of our courage and commitment, together.
The above is an edited excerpt from an address by actress, vocalist and breast cancer survivor Diahann Carroll to the World Summit Against Cancer meeting in Paris, France, on Feb. 9, 2001.