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Katie’s Daughters Open Up About Their Mom’s Diagnosis With Breast Cancer

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Plus, hear from members of Katie’s medical team on their reactions to Katie’s news and one survivor whose mission is to change the system.

In a personal essay we shared last week, Katie revealed her breast cancer diagnosis. Scheduling a long overdue mammogram in the summer of 2022 led to the discovery of a small tumor about the size of an olive. Luckily, Katie caught her cancer early and swiftly received a lumpectomy and subsequent radiation. As a decades-long advocate for cancer awareness and funding, Katie is now on a mission to share her story, which is why she’s spending Breast Cancer Awareness Month revealing details of her diagnosis, treatment, and overall experience.

In this super-personal episode of her podcast Next Question, Katie talks about the importance of thorough cancer screenings and urges listeners to make regular appointments with their doctors. Katie also highlights the increased risk for patients with dense breasts; nearly half of American women have dense breasts, which can make mammograms less likely to detect abnormalities.

To keep things candid, Katie has eye-opening conversations with the members of her medical team. She speaks to interventional breast radiologist Susan Drossman, MD, and surgical breast oncologist and chief of breast surgery at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center Lisa Newman, MD, about the processes of diagnoses and treatment. Katie also includes raw recordings that she captured while being treated — a genuine, behind-the-scenes glimpse into her journey.

This episode also features a heartfelt interview with Katie’s two daughters, Ellie and Carrie Monahan, who recall their emotional reactions to their mother’s diagnosis. Plus, Katie talks to breast cancer survivor Michele Young about the crusade to change Ohio’s rules for breast cancer screenings.

You can listen to the full podcast and read highlights from the conversations below.

Carrie Monahan remembers the life-changing FaceTime call

It’s not unusual for her to call and text me a lot. I used to be really unresponsive to her, especially when I was in college. But now it’s not unusual for her to call or FaceTime out of the blue. We talk all the time throughout the day.

When I woke up in the morning, I had a missed call. She was saying, “Please call me.

She does that all the time. It could be for something totally random and unimportant. I remember I had just woken up. We FaceTimed and she told me. It was scary. She told me that everything was going to be fine. I think she prefaced it that way.

Something had been found during the mammogram. She said, “That’s why I couldn’t talk on the phone with you to try and figure out car mirrors. I found out I had cancer and I felt bad.”

I felt worried. But I think she understood from the get-go that she had access to amazing doctors, that it was super early and that she — in all likelihood — was going to be OK.

She told me we weren’t going to be able to go on a trip that she and I had planned because that was when the surgery was going to be. And she said, “Don’t tell Ellie because I’m going to tell her.”

In the midst of a busy summer, Ellie Monahan grappled with her mother’s diagnosis

I’m sort of different from Carrie. I historically have been very anxious and am always in constant communication with my mom. I’ve only learned in the past few years to give it a rest. I always had her on speed dial and I still talk to her all the time. But it used to be every day and now it’s a couple of times a week. That’s healthy because I’m 31 years old and I’m married.

We hadn’t been talking that much because I had three weddings and was traveling back and forth from L.A., where I live, to the East coast, where these weddings were. I took a redeye to New Jersey to go to my husband’s cousin’s wedding. It was the day Roe v. Wade was overturned, so I was already very emotionally drained.

That was the same day I finally got in touch with her. She told me that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer, but that it was very early.

Ellie reflects on the family’s tragic history with cancer

There were certain trigger words used. “Radiation” was hard to hear. Even the mention of chemotherapy and imagining mom losing her hair was really scary to me.

When our father [Jay Monahan] was diagnosed with cancer in 1997, he had stage four. Hearing that my mom’s was a much earlier stage was very reassuring. Our mom is so strong and has such amazing contacts in the medical community because of her cancer work and Stand Up to Cancer.

I knew we were going to get more information as it came and that she has amazing doctors. She was so calm about it. I was really comforted by that after the initial shock of hearing the C word. I think she was protecting us, which was really nice in her time of need. That’s a real mom move.

I think my brain could not go to a place where she wasn’t gonna be OK. Having lost our father, I just couldn’t go there. I was all over the place.

Carrie discusses the death of her father

The reason for my and Ellie’s disparate reactions to the news also has to do with the fact that I was basically an infant and Ellie was six years old at the time our dad was sick.

I have no memory of it. I think being close to cancer — that ultimately resulted in death — when she was that young made the experience much more visceral for her. Ellie recently shared a memory with me of being very freaked out by a mannequin head that had one of our dad’s wigs on it.

She has lots of other memories that I don’t have. I think that is part of it for Ellie.

Dr. Drossman recalls giving Katie the news

I said to myself, “Oh my goodness, how am I going to say this?” Which is always what I say when I have to confront somebody with this news. It’s always hard. It’s hard for me every single time I do it.

I probably [asked Katie], “Do you have a few minutes to talk?” When I’m worried about something, I give people at least a premonition that I am going to call and that it may not be great news. I try to not spring things on people.

I think I said, “It’s a small breast cancer. It’s totally treatable, but we need to make a plan.”