NBC's Kristen Dahlgren's Breast Cancer
- A dent—not a lump—was her earliest symptom of stage 2 breast cancer
- Although covering a hurricane at the time, Dahlgren made it a priority to get checked, a move that may have saved her life
- During treatment, she continued to work, even through chemo and hair loss
“I remember thinking that the story would save lives,” Dahlgren shared on TODAY. “I had no idea the life it would save would be my own.”
While lumps are the most common symptom, about one in six women diagnosed with breast cancer never have one. Instead, they notice nipple changes, dents, dimples, pain, or redness — all signs that women should get checked by a doctor.
An Inconvenient Dent
“When I saw the dent in my breast, I knew that it was something that I needed to get checked out, it wasn’t something to brush under the rug,” Dahlgren tells SurvivorNet. “Beneath the dent, I didn’t feel a lump, but something I might describe as a ‘thickening,” she adds. “It just felt different than everywhere else.”
There’s never a convenient time for a cancer-check. At the time, Dahlgren was covering a hurricane—and she’d had a clear mammogram just a few months before. But her husband had recently lost a friend to cancer, so she saw her doctor.
Kristen Dahlgren decided to share her breast cancer story in the hope of helping others facing the disease.
Her mammogram had missed her breast cancer. Dahlgren has since learned that she has dense breast tissue and that mammograms “are only 87% effective and are less sensitive in women like me with dense breast tissue.”
Moving to the City
Dahlgren grew up in New Jersey and actually did her college internship for NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw. She recalls, “As soon as I set foot in the newsroom, I knew that that was my future and it was what I wanted to do. And I’m lucky enough to be working for that show. Now with Lester Holt.”
It’s been more than 20 years since she first experienced the rush of a newsroom and gushes, “I just love, love, love what I’ve been doing.” Dahlgren finds total satisfaction in telling the stories of “incredible, inspirational people.” Though, she admits, it is a little odd for her to be on the other side of the interview chair. Still, she tells SurvivorNet, “I’m really happy to be sharing my story and what I’ve been through because I hope it can help other people.”
Working Through Cancer
Although chemo slowed her down, work became a welcome distraction from cancer.
“I would have my chemo. I would usually work the day after. And then there were a couple of days where I really didn’t feel my best and I needed kind of those couch days,” she recalls.
Should you have a lumpectomy or mastectomy? Breast surgeon Dr. Sarah Cate talks you through this important decision.
“I did dial back the travel but, for me, it was important to try to keep working through it,” she says.
“It’s something that I love and I wanted to keep telling those stories that I was telling because it made me feel good. Like I was still normal. I was still living my life as much as I could.”
Coping With Hair Loss On Camera
Dahlgren admits losing her hair was tough. “It was hard to avoid that harsh reality that my appearance was going to change dramatically,” she says.
So she decided to take control and cut her hair before it started falling out. “I decided to get my hair cut first. And so I decided to go short and sort of take it into my own hands at first.”
“I was out on a boat the other day and I felt the wind blowing through my hair. And it was an amazing moment. Six months ago I was completely bald”
But it was difficult when her short hair fell out in the shower by the handful: “It’s tough. It hurts. And it’s hard to look in the mirror when you look so dramatically different.”
To Wig? Or Not To Wig?
Dahlgren decided to look for a wig and went shopping with a friend. “And I went back to work and I asked the executive producer of Nightly News and of the Today show, Hey guys, do you mind if I get a long Disney princess wig?”
The wig drew compliments. “I would have to tell them that I was undergoing chemo. And that’s why my hair looked so amazing.”
A Buzz Cut
She chose to go public about her breast cancer, telling her story on TODAY in the hope that her experience would help others. When her hair started to grow back, she decided to “ditch the wig” and go for “a little buzz cut.” She’d told her story on camera. TODAY viewers had already seen her bald—why continue pretending she had long hair?
Dahlgren says her short “chemo curls” aren’t easy to style. “But it is what it is.”
“I was out on a boat the other day and I felt the wind blowing through my hair. And it was an amazing moment,” she says. “Six months ago I was completely bald. Now I look at my hair is kind of a sign of, of me coming back.”
Inspired and Thankful
In April 2020, Dahlgren announced that she was cancer-free. Along the way, she’s been inspired by the outpouring of support she’s received from viewers. “My hope was that maybe someone out there needed to hear that message for their own health. And that’s why I shared it, but I got back so much more than I gave in those messages of support.”
Dahlgren says she’s always been an optimist. “I have a lot to live for. I have a four-year-old who’s going to be watching how I handle things.”
Dahlgren’s biggest takeaway is this: “You’re strong. You can do this. It’s going to be unpleasant, but you can come out the other side and continue to thrive and live.”
“Cancer is tough. But you’ll be amazed deep down, the strength you have.”
Her latest Instagram post (above) celebrating her recent birthday proves her point: “Waterskiing!! One year after finding my #Cancer. Something I wasn’t sure I would ever do again… So grateful for all of the support and love over the past year :heart: Cancer can’t take everything. #survivor #thriving #NeverGiveUp #birthdaygirl Bring on the next 48.”