Looking Back and Moving Forward
- Laura Ingraham is one of the most listened-to voices on television. Many viewers may not realize, however, that she has battled breast cancer. She was diagnosed with the disease in 2005 at age 41.
- For Ingraham, friends, family, and religious faith were all essential support systems in her recovery. Though she has mostly kept her cancer battle private, she hopes she can be a resource for others who are struggling and unsure of what steps to take.
- Ingraham’s mother died from lung cancer, and her main goals in life are to be the best mother she can for her children, and teach them to be independent, strong, happy, and prepared for the world.
If you’re one of the 2 million plus viewers of The Ingraham Angle — which airs on the highest rated cable news network, the Fox News Channel, celebrating its 25th anniversary this week — but didn’t know of the conservative talker’s cancer history, that’s no accident.Read More
Once cancer was firmly in her past, Ingraham also didn’t want it to define her. “I want people to remember me not for ‘She had breast cancer,’” she explains. “Most people who get through it just want to be the mom, the friend who happened to have breast cancer. Nothing against it, but I don’t wear ribbons, it’s just not who I am. I’m pretty private. Then again I do want to help people who are confused or don’t know what to do.”
And help she does. Ingraham, the top-rated female host in cable news, readily doles out advice to friends, friends of friends, colleagues and even viewers/listeners who seek her out for it.
Breast cancer survivor Beverly Zavaleta didn’t know where to turn after being diagnosed with breast cancer.
Paying it Forward
In fact, the Glastonbury, Connecticut native is eager to pay back the good fortune she experienced when two people — a long time friend, who also happened to be her primary care physician at the time, and a listener of her then radio show, who also happened to be an oncologist—made a big difference in her cancer trajectory.
“My regular ob/gyn found [a lump] in a breast exam. He said ‘I think you should go get this looked at.’ A very good radiologist looked at it under an ultrasound [and] because of the shape of it, it indicated that I could just keep an eye on it for six months and see what happens. As I was leaving that building, I got a call from my GP, my primary care physician, he’s an old friend, a great doctor—we disagree politically pretty much on everything—and he said ‘Where are you?’ I said ‘I’m at the hospital center.’ He said, ‘What the heck are you there for?’ and I said, ‘Well they found a lump and they want me to observe it’ and he said ‘Turn around and go back in there and ask them for a biopsy.’”
Then a listener of her radio show at the time, The Laura Ingraham Show, who also happened to be a breast oncologist at the University of Pittsburgh, left her a message to call him. “I never knew him, I never met him before,” says Ingraham. “I called him and he alerted me to this new type of test on a tumor—Oncotype DX Test—at the time it hadn’t even been FDA approved. So I took it to my oncologist and he said, ‘Only you would bring me something I don’t know what it was.’ They actually did that test and it put me right in the middle so I went ahead and did chemo, and then did radiation” for what she describes as “stage 1 but aggressive cancer.” (The Oncotype DX test is a genetic test that helps guide treatment decisions for women with early-stage breast cancer.)
The Power of Prayer
Ingraham, who has an B.A. from Dartmouth and a law degree from the University of Virginia, also acknowledges the power of her “tight circle of friends” and prayers from all “across the country” for helping her get through her difficult treatment regimen.
“I know so many women will say: ‘[getting the cancer diagnosis] was a curse and a blessing’. The blessing is that in the course of our busy lives you don’t have a real chance to be with old college friends, high school friends, my brothers, people who I don’t get to see normally. I found myself spending time with them because they were insistent they would be with me at key points along the way. That was great, not great because I didn’t feel well along the way, but great to be with them. I think they actually learned a lot as well.”
Breast cancer survivor Fernanda Savino talks about how the diagnosis allowed her to slow down & brought her clarity.
On the spiritual end of it, says Ingraham, prayer was “a big, big part” of her recovery. “I have a deep faith and don’t think I could have gotten through it without it. I had a lot of people praying for me. I really felt the power of that prayer. It helped me 100%.”
Ingraham, who thinks of herself as a “thriver” rather than a “survivor” took on her cancer diagnosis like any tough project or assignment she’s come up against. “Once I had decided to treat it that way: you have various assignments; you have various benchmarks you have to hit; you just have to keep plowing through it.”
Always a Thriver
What does she advise the people who now turn to her for her learned wisdom through the cancer world?
“Don’t start Googling things; don’t go on WebMD,” she counsels. “No offense to WebMD but this is such a fast changing area of medicine that nothing you Google for anything this complex or life and death is going to make you feel better. It’s going to make you feel worse invariably.
“I would stay off the internet: get with your friends and your physician; make sure you get all the relevant information; get copies of all your tests. It sounds really rote but keep really clear logs of what’s happened, calls, simple things that could end up being a nightmare, if you don’t do it right. Keep a journal just for yourself. Even if you write a paragraph a day it will help you. I had a three-ring binder. I started my three-ring binder the afternoon I got diagnosed.
“For people who were in the midst of chemotherapy or some of the more difficult treatments, the advice I always gave them was keep moving. It was really only one day a week where I stopped doing anything, usually the day after or two days after that you feel really bad. I just did my best to do something every day: running, lifting weights to the extent you could; anything.”
Becoming a Mom
And when it was all over, “Keep moving” is what she did, turning her lifelong dream of being a mom into reality with the adoption of her three children: Maria Caroline, now 16 from Guatemala and Michael Dmitri, now 13 and Nikolai Peter, now 11, both from Russia.
“I always wanted to be a mom,” says Ingraham. “It was just the right time.”
Of course, raising kids can’t help but stir up the sting of the loss of her mother who died of lung cancer six years before her own cancer diagnosis. “I always tell my friends who have mothers who live nearby, who are able to pop over and hang out: ‘You are so blessed. I would give pretty much anything to be able to have a few minutes with my mother.’”
Ingraham keeps her mom’s memory alive by sharing both her personality—“feisty and funny”—and her impact with her kids. “In a different era she would have been a small business owner, an entrepreneur; she was super savvy on making do with very little money; she could add ten numbers in her head at one time. She never went to college, she worked as a waitress for most of her life. We talk about her a lot.”
It’s easy to see Ingraham’s mother’s influence on her when she states her long term goals not in terms of career, but rather in terms of her motherhood. “My goal is to be the best mom I can be. I want to see [my kids] independent and strong and happy and prepared as best as they can be for life in all its fullness.”
Cancer definitely does not define Ingraham, but she does recognize it has taught her something. “I don’t know if I can say I’m a different person. It just makes you think a lot more: You’re here for a very short time. None of us have any idea how long we’ll be here, so you have to make it matter. What you do matters.”