TV Newscaster Paula Zahn introduces herself and describes why she became interested in advocating for those with cancer.
I am Paula Zahn, a journalist, a mother of three, a sister to two brothers and one sister, and a fierce advocate for women’s health issues, and men’s as well.
Initially, just as a journalist. One of my first big investigative projects when I worked at a television station in Houston, Texas was to come up with the idea of getting a chain of drug stores and local hospitals and our local television station involved with an effort to made people more aware of colorectal cancer, which was something we could barely say on the air 30 years ago, and then unfortunately, cancer started taking a devastating toll on my own family.
My father was diagnosed with an advanced stage of lymphoma within weeks of my mother being diagnosed with breast cancer. Shortly thereafter, my aunt was diagnosed with a rare form of blood cancer and then, in one of the saddest twists of fate, my 32-year-old sister-in-law, the mother of two young girls, was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer.
And I think what happened during that process was that I was sort of a journalist first, and then the daughter and then the sister-in-law. I did everything in my power to get my hands on as much information as I could access, and like anybody else out there that sees a loved one get sick, it’s a very frustrating process.
But for me, I felt empowered, at least, to access the information, turn it over to my family members, and let them make informed decisions about their care. And then as time went on, I began to see how many people, in this great country of ours, don’t have access to the kind of information I was privileged to get. I could pick up the phone and talk to one of the lead doctors in MD Anderson simply because that was my job. I was a local reporter in Houston, Texas, and I was able to work the phones pretty well, but then it became very clear to me that there had to be a better way to get information to the public.
And then over a 30-year period, I was one of those reporters that made assignment editors’ eyes just roll around saying, you know, “Oh my God, we do breast cancer awareness month every year. How many prostate screening test stories do you need to do? It’s the same information.” And then what I found year after year after year, no matter how often you put that information on the air you reach a new person who has never heard the information before.
And I think one of the key frustrations to me over the years in trying to get medical information on the air is that, preventive stories are not considered provocative. It’s pretty obvious medicine that we need to confront. For example, in the case of osteoporosis, to me, the sad thing about it is that it’s such a silent disease and if we could just make the information clear to the public that there are some very simple things you can do in your lifestyle that will greatly reduce your risk of getting osteoporosis.
Well, like what? And this is when the assignment editors would start rolling their eyes. Well, eating right, making sure you have enough vitamin D, making sure you have enough calcium in your diet, do--particularly for women above the ages of 50--to start doing weight training, any kind of resistance training that will build up your bone mass. And then, also making it very clear to audience members they don’t need to fear osteoporosis because if they know they have a history of it in their family, you can very carefully monitor it, and even once you are diagnosed with it, there are many things you can do that can change the outcome of your disease.
And, I just personally find it so frustrating as a family member that has battled, personally, I find it so frustrating as a member of family who has had so much cancer, and of course particularly when you are fighting breast cancer, osteoporosis is a real risk down the road after these gruesome treatments you have to go through, that this is considered too obvious information to get out in the public airways. It’s not.
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