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tv   Tavis Smiley  WHUT  July 13, 2009 10:00pm-10:30pm EDT

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from los angeles, i am tavis smiley. tonight, a unique look at the issue of breast cancer, including be directly strain of the disease. dr. olufunmilayo olopade specializes in triple-breast cancer at the university of chicago medical center. then we will be joined by two courageous women whose lives have been impacted by breast cancer, diahann carroll and author jessica queller, author of the memoir, "pretty is what changes." that is coming up right now. >> there are so many things that wal-mart is looking forward to doing, like helping people live better. but mostly, we're helping build
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stronger communities and relationships. with your help, the best is yet to come. >> nationwide insurance proudly supports "tavis smiley." tavis and nationwide, working together to improve financial literacy and the economic empowerment that comes with it. >> ♪ nationwide is on your side ♪ >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. [captioning made possible by kcet public television] tavis: last month, my longtime producer and dear friend lost her two-year battle with breast cancer at the young age of 42. she was afflicted of the strain of the disease known as triple
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negative, which disperse charge -- which disproportionately affects african american women. dr. olufunmilayo olopade specializes in this and joins us from the university of chicago. welcome to the program. >> thank you for having me. tavis: let me ask you about the work you do specifically, and that i want to ask you about triple negative. >> tavis, i am a medical oncologist. i treat women with breast cancer. about 15 years ago, it became clear to me that we needed to do more work to prevent breast cancer. so i developed a cancer risk assessment program, where we wanted to have women come in and talk to us about their family history of breast cancer or any other risk factors they may have so we could help them develop
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strategies to reduce their risk of dying from breast cancer. my interest is in really trying to understand whether women have inherited genes that we can test for, and by testing for those genes identified those with the highest risk. over the course of the 15 years, we have come to realize that there are in fact some genes that produce breast cancer. we have studied families, and i can tell you when we have identified women with these genes, when they have come in to do preventative strategies to prevent dying from breast cancer, we have seen great success. what has been frustrating is when we see young women liked cheryl who at 40 did not have a
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strong family history, did not have any reason to get breast cancer, and is overcome with a deadly form of the disease. it is very disappointing to us. that is really got us to focus on whether there are differences between populations in terms of the types of breast cancer that they get. because we work on the south side of chicago, we see a diverse population of women. one of the things we found is that black women were getting this type of triple negative breast cancer much more commonly than their white counterparts. tavis: why is that? do you know as yet? >> that is the million-dollar question. the last conversation i had with cheryl, she was an educated, well trained, very knowledgeable woman, and she developed a triple negative
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breast cancer, which is aggressive. prior to the time we started doing this work, it was always thought the reason why it black women were dying disproportionately was because they had no insurance and no access. but what our work has found is that it is really a collision of differences, cancer that grows very fast and young women who are not expected to get breast cancer. for the longest time, the face of breast cancer is an older white women with breast cancer. it is really when we started studying different parts of the population, when black woman started coming forward to participate in the research that we began to identify that breast cancer does not affect women the same way. there is a lot of work we have to do. tavis: what is your sense of the kind of energy, the kind of
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effort, the resources that are being put in to broaden this field of study? not unlike the case years ago, with hiv aids, we thought it was a gay white male disease and all the attention went that way. we now know differently, it is killing all kinds of different people. what is your sense of how we are doing now, expanding the conversation about breast cancer beyond a particular group to include women of color? >> the fact is a big step forward. that is why i wanted to come, because we need to get the word out. we need to talk about this, the successes we have had in treating breast cancer. we still have challenges. challenges like the type of breast cancer that cheryl has, which grows fast and can rapidly become aggressive. because it affects black women
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in a way that is different, i think we need to get the word out there. when a young black woman feels a lump, instead of blowing it off and say, i am too young to get breast cancer, they need to run in find a doctor. it is not just black women who develop triple negative. any woman can develop this type of breast cancer. that is why we emphasize that we all have to come together. we cannot say that breast cancer is curable now, so let's not worry about it. we have to find out what the different types of breast cancers are, how it affects people from different race, ethnic backgrounds, and we have to get black women to become a little bit more engaged in the resource -- in the research process so we can study more of them and they will become part
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of the solution. tavis: how does this conversation fit into the larger conversation about health care for all americans? >> it is very important to me because i work on the south side of chicago, and it is amazing how many women without insurance, through our emergency room to be treated for breast cancer. often, it is too late by the time the show up in the emergency room. if women who are high risk can get access to family care doctors or a family doctor who will know about their history, i have women whose mother died of breast cancer and they just sit there, waiting to get breast cancer because they have no insurance. they just graduated out of college. i think it is important to begin to get everyone to have access to family care. we as oncologist the need to
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work with family care doctors to train them on how to identify individuals who are at high risk, because breast cancer, if we catch it early, is still curable. tavis: you are one of the leading experts on breast cancer, focusing specifically on what killed our dear friend cheryl flowers. her name is dr. olufunmilayo olopade. think you for joining us on the program and sharing your insights. -- thank you for joining us on the program and sharing your insights. up next, a personal look at breast cancer with diahann carroll and jessica queller. stay with us. we continue our look at the issue of breast cancer. i am pleased to be joined by two courageous women. jessica queller is an accomplished tv writer whose
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book is currently out, called "pretty is what changes." and also, diahann carroll. if you have not pickup a copy of per terrific memoir, it is called "the legs are the last to go." as jonathan puts his camera on her legs, you will see why. >> and my ideas? tavis: yes. -- >> am i obvious? >> tavis: yes. it is nice to see you. the last time you were on this show, we started off talking about our beloved friend, cheryl flowers. i would not be on the pbs if it was not for her.
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it was the success of our radio program on npr that made his tv show possible. we last talked about her battle with breast cancer, and we have committed, all of us, for the rest of our lives to use this platform as often as we can to talk about this issue. here we are back again. i am glad to see you. >> i am glad to be here, and i love you for doing this for cheryl. for some reason, we go through time where we are devoted to raising money and having research, and then it disappears. we need to have more reasons to bring it forward. tavis: how much did it scare you when you were diagnosed? >> there are no words. it brought me to my needs as soon as i heard it -- it brought me to my knees.
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i think 48 hours later, i accepted it was a proper diagnosis, but that we have associated with that word "cancer" a word that comes to mind immediately, and that is death. how does one handle the fact that this might mean the end? you cannot handle that immediately. that takes a while. tavis: what the make of the fact that 10 years now, you are still here? >> i am lucky. that is the first thing. the other thing is i like the fact i am part of an industry that insists that every job, you must have a complete physical. that became a part of my life very early, recognizing that it was part of my responsibility to myself as well as the producers that i work for. every year, every year i had a
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mammogram. i think early detection is the most important thing we can talk about. i wonder always when i hear about a very quick death if there had been at earlier information that this person had about themselves if it would've made a difference. in my case, it was very important. tavis: you have friends, certainly people in your circle, who had access to you, who warn you against going public about your breast cancer because it might harm your career? >> yes, i did. at lot of people. the names i cannot tell you, but some of them are walking around as time bombs themselves. they realize they have cancer, but what their decision was, particularly the women who said this to me, is that the industry has a very high standard of make believe connect
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it to women -- connected to women. it is important you do not have the stigma of anything that is not healthy or maybe it unattractive. i thought about that for a while and i said that is not going to work for me. i was fortunate enough to have people around me to a forced me to come to my own conclusion, which was to share it. tavis: you sat down in that chair and met jessica for the first time and you said how amazing her story was, and it is. for a wonderful book, "pretty is what changes," tells the story, but jessica actually did not have breast cancer. i will let you pick up on that story because it is so fascinating. >> ok. well, my mother was an extraordinary, extraordinary woman, and she was blindsided by
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cancer at the age of 52. it was quite brutal, but she fought with every fiber of her being and she was able to beat the cancer. six years later, she was struck with another primary cancer, ovarian cancer, and this time she fought and her will to live was formidable, but this time the cancer was too strong and she died at the age of 60. my sister and i and our father bore witness to this unimaginable horror and suffering. i am still haunted by it daily. one year after her death, i took a blood test for what is commonly known as the breast cancer gene, and it was done to find out -- i was stunned to find out i carried this genetic mutation. at the time, she did not know this existed. the test results told me that i
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had up to 90% chance of getting breast cancer, most likely before the age of 50, and i was 34 at the time when i took the test. i spent one year soul-searching, researching, speaking to doctors around the country, trying to figure out what to do. i was told that the gold standard for preventing breast cancer was prophylactic double mastectomy and reconstruction. although i was cancer free, i was statistically assured of getting cancer, most likely young and a very virulent strain. >> that is a more tough decision, because you did not have the cancer. >> right, and you are healthy and nobody is telling you you have to go for surgery, but i was traumatized and affected to my soul by this cancer. i decided that i did not want to risk a gamble with this.
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tavis: you had the surgery? >> i had the surgery, and i am fine, and i am grateful. i had advanced warning and i feel so lucky. after the surgery, the pathology report showed pre-cancerous changes in one of my breasts, so i was en route. >> this information about this is relatively new, so we should make sure that our daughters who have not thought of that have this information. tavis: speaking of that, jessica says she is fine. she is more than fine. you see this? >> i am pregnant! tavis: 6 months? >> and is a girl. -- and it is a girl. tavis: let me ask this, is their
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fear, trepidation about this? >> absolutely. there is a lot of fear about passing this gene on. there is a lot of controversy and i have been criticized publicly of by people -- i've been criticized publicly by people who think it is not fair to have a child when you have this genetic mutation. >> it is important for you to do. if you find out this is true, you will be able to at an early age effect this. >> it really does not come into play until a woman is in her early 20's, and my doctors have assured me that scientific advances are moving forward. 25 years from now, god willing, it will be a different climate and different choices. tavis: i am glad to hear about the research. we have to eradicate not just
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breast cancer but all these various forms of cancer that are killing people every day. whenever i hear that somebody has passed away, the first thing i think is cancer. you hear so often they died of this kind of cancer or that kind of cancer. we will do more as long as i am on pbs about this issue. i was going to ask, how it makes you feel and how you respond, what is your response to people who say you were not ethical getting pregnant? pmi you can never judge somebody unless you are walking in their shoes. -- >> what you can never judge somebody unless you are walking in their shoes. i lived a wonderful life until the age of 34. we are going to continue discover more mutations. everybody will have something. if you start living your life that way and say i will not have children because i am afraid the child has a chance of getting
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ill, will kind of world will we have? >> we are very afraid of change. we have to think about the situation in a different way. that is hard for many of us. what courage. >> thank you. tavis: diahann carroll, were those people correct about this impacting your career? >> i cannot say. because of the early detection, my health was very good, even during radiation. i came out of it and went back to taking care of myself. i think i have done fine. i am thrilled i am working at this age. but, no, i do not think so.
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tavis: when you sat down and met jessica, and i heard her say to you what a role model she is -- >> she is my hero. tavis: i come to that because you have been a role model to so many women. you have been a role model to so many women, black and otherwise. you know this better than i do -- if breast cancer is a death sentence for anybody, statistically is for black women. when black women get diagnosed, the evidence is very clear they end up dying from this much more often. your message to black women specifically is what? >> has anyone said why they
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believe this is true? tavis: i am learning about this because what i have learned about what cheryl went through. one of the reasons is early detection. they do not learned about it early enough. second, they do not have access to health care. to many women of color did not have access to health care -- too many women of color do not have access to health care. and this triple negative is disproportionately affecting women of color, trying to figure out why that is so egregious of the bodies of african-american women. >> the first thing you said about the lack of information is incredibly important. much of what i found in my travels, talking to women about it, is fear. always, fear is the thing that
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will conquer us if we allow it. that is why it is so interesting to travel and have these discussions. they have relations with me after 8000 years in the business, they say, i know her. if she had it, and it is important. i think is really difficult to get this information into the black community. there is information out there. we cannot say it is not out there. you have to go get it. tavis: jessica? >> i am so happy and grateful. >> you look like a pretty pregnant woman. >> thank you. i would like to take this opportunity to say my mother loved you. we watched together, and she would be so thrilled.
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it is poignant for me. my mother just love you. >> it isn't that lovely? that is one of the perks of working, hearing stories like that. tavis: and also being able to have the kind of integrity and credibility and respect that when you talk about these issues, people pay attention. that is why i am glad you came to see us. >> thank you. anytime you invite me, i will be here. tavis: diahann carroll, an iconic figure in this institution of hollywood. her latest book, "the legs are the last to go." that is her latest book. and also it jessica queller, expecting her first baby. the book is called "pretty is what changes." thank you both for coming on the program. this week, we're paying tribute to our longtime producer and
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abiding friend, cheryl flowers, who passed away recently from breast cancer. we dedicate this program tonight to cheryl. until next time, as always, keep the faith. ♪ >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley on tavis: i am tavis smiley. join me next time for the conversation with steve martin on his new cd of banjo music. that is next time. i>> there are so many things tht wal-mart is looking forward to doing, like helping people live better. but mostly, we're helping build stronger communities and relationships.
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because with your help, the best is yet to come. >> nationwide insurance proudly supports "tavis smiley." tavis and nationwide, working together to improve financial literacy and the economic empowerment that comes with it. >> ♪ nationwide is on your side ♪ >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. [captioning made possible by kcet public television] captioned by the national captioning institute
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