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Research Is the Reason I Can Write My Next Chapter

By BCRF | September 15, 2021

NBC News Correspondent Anne Thompson shares how breast cancer changed her and why she believes in the power of research

Anne Thompson learned she had breast cancer by voicemail. As she sat at her desk in the newsroom and heard that the suspicious mass in her breast was malignant, she had one thought: I’m going to die. “I don’t think anyone who gets cancer thinks anything else but that,” she said.

That 2006 diagnosis felt so shocking, in part, because she had no family history of the disease, and her OB-GYN had discovered it during a routine exam.

Anne was eventually diagnosed with stage 3 estrogen receptor–positive breast cancer. She underwent intense chemotherapy to shrink the five-centimeter tumor before she had a lumpectomy with re-excision, followed by radiation. After active treatment, she started the hormonal therapy Tamoxifen to stave off recurrence. 

As a broadcast journalist for a national news network covering environmental and economic affairs, Anne has traveled the world reporting on everything from the 2010 BP oil spill to the 2021 summer Olympic Games.

But nothing could have prepared her for the experience of losing her hair during chemotherapy.

“No matter how much you think ‘I’m tough, and I’m strong,’ it’s really hard to lose your hair, and it was particularly hard for me because I kept working,” she said.

Though she told family, friends, and colleagues she had breast cancer, Anne kept her diagnosis private during treatment—even as she was reporting on major stories.

“I didn’t want to be the correspondent with cancer,” she said. “I thought the best example I could set was just to go on with my life. I used to call 30 Rock [where NBC is headquartered] my ‘cancer-free zone.’”

Nine years after Anne successfully completed treatment, she woke up one morning with pain in her other breast. Her doctor immediately suspected she had cancer.

“This time, quite frankly, I was annoyed,” she said. “I had all kinds of career and life plans, and then I got cancer. But the good news was I had been through it all before and knew what to do.”

Anne once again underwent chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation (“the cancer trifecta,” she dryly calls it), plus Herceptin because that cancer was HER2-positive.

“It was amazing to me how much technology and surgery had improved in nine years. I still had to go through all the same things, but in some cases, they were easier and better,” she said. “Though I never did get good at putting on false eyelashes.”

Now 64 and on the other side of her two bouts with breast cancer, Anne says she feels thankful.

“Breast cancer made me a more compassionate person and reporter,” she said. “For all cancer takes away, it also wakes you up to foolishness in your life. I’m a much lighter person now. I don’t waste my time being unhappy in any part of my life.”

Anne is also grateful that breast cancer research advanced care in the nine years between her diagnoses and that targeted therapies were there for her when she needed them.

“Why your body suddenly turns on itself, I can’t explain,” she said. “But when it does, we need answers—and those answers come from research.”

Read more stories from BCRF’s Research Is the Reason storytelling initiative here.