Living Large with the Big C

Former Dancing with the Stars co-host and entertainment correspondent Samantha Harris on her life-changing experience with breast cancer.

I’ve always loved life and its simple pleasures. The shrills of glee from my 3- and 6-year-old daughters running into my arms for a tight hug when I walk in the door ignites my own happiness more than anything I could imagine. 

I’ve also always taken a lot of pride in staying fit and healthy. For me it’s about more than just looking good on camera. I work out regularly and am mindful of what I eat. I’m more energetic at 40 than I was at 20.  

Then BAM. Breast cancer. My world shattered in an instant. In October 2013, the eve of my 40th birthday, I got a jump on my baseline mammogram. All clear. Then just 11 days later, I discovered a lump in my right breast. 

How could that be? Was I really part of that percentage—the two out of every 10 women whose cancer goes undetected by a mammogram? 

Family doctors later said “nothing to worry about.” My inner voice (and my mom) had doubts.

Nevertheless I stayed in my cocoon. It took me four months to listen to my gut and take charge. After an ultrasound, MRI and needle biopsy, I felt a small sense of relief hearing that the breast cancer specialist did not think it was cancer. 

She performed a lumpectomy anyway, and it was indeed early-stage breast cancer. My world stopped. Again.

Painful memories of the day my father had been diagnosed with colon cancer rushed back. We lost him only two years later, at the age of 50. I was only 22 at the time. 

After finding out that I, too, had cancer, all I could think about was my husband and our two beautiful, exuberant little girls. I didn’t have my dad at my wedding, and I was determined to be there for Josselyn’s and Hillary’s. 

But I had to figure out a way to eradicate the horrible, suffocating feeling of heaviness. The constant nag from the pit in my stomach was almost as crippling. It needed to stop. I had to turn this horrible situation around—to somehow stay positive, if not for me then for our daughters.

My husband, Michael, ever the strong and comforting source, said, “Babe, when life gives you lemons, you gotta make lemonade.” That simple, everyday saying resonated and somehow helped me re-adjust my outlook.

And it unleashed a new train of thought. I caught it! I found it early! I’d gone through a lumpectomy. I could do more. Whatever it took.

In May I underwent a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction. The pathology came back. It had gone to one lymph node.

Despite having moments of sadness and fear, I’ve chosen to look at the bright side. My surgery got delayed three times, but that meant I got to enjoy Mother’s Day celebrations with my girls at their school.  

My husband and I began a new endeavor born out of this experience. We are in the midst of launching a website to inspire positivity in the face of adversity: GottaMakeLemonade.com.

And the past few months have pushed me to grow in a way I didn’t know I was capable. Now I am “making lemonade” daily—finding the silver lining in both the big and small things. I will be there for our girls’ weddings. And I do feel like I am one of the lucky ones.

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