Dina Bair, age 51, is an Emmy award-winning journalist who is currently the anchor for Chicago’s WGN Midday News. In addition, she is the medical reporter for the “Medical Watch” segments on WGN Midday News, WGN Evening News and WGN News at Nine. She’s also a two-time cancer survivor who was diagnosed at age 21 with ovarian cancer and at age 39 with melanoma on her breast. Surgery removed a golf ball–size mass where the melanoma had invaded her breast.
Humor Beats Cancer: Where did you get your motivation to overcome cancer a second time?
Dina Bair: My motivation and drive came especially the second time as an adult through working out. I felt whole again and felt my strength return when I completed a triathlon. As I was competing, I was thinking, “I can’t believe you are so strong.” As a cancer survivor, you’ve got a monkey on your back and think cancer will come back. Each thing you do that gives you strength and helps you feel like a fighter really defines how you approach your life.
HBC: What was the first diagnosis like?
DB: I was in college, a 21-year-old junior, diagnosed with ovarian cancer. My first question was whether I would be able to have a child. They told me that the best thing to do was try as soon as possible. The only problem: I didn’t have a boyfriend and had never had sex. It wouldn’t be for another 10 years until I had a child — three through fertility treatment and Gianna came through God’s grace.
I was so young and naïve that it didn’t dawn on me that this is something that kills people. I’m young and have cancer, not a problem, but I just want to have kids.
HBC: Who was your support system?
DB: My parents back East and I had my sorority sisters. The most frustrating part was I had to go to three or four doctors before I got diagnosed. The worst was a female doctor who told me to suck it up and deal with the stomach cramps.
HBC: What did that experience teach you?
DB: Listen to your body. Doctors seem they are like gods and while I appreciate all they’ve done, if you know something is wrong keep searching for the answer.
HBC: How has cancer changed you?
DB: I had to have everything perfect and everything in its place. I’m a recovering perfectionist. It has allowed me to realize being perfect doesn’t matter. I appreciate the way things are. I don’t care what people think of me as long as I’m good person. That’s what matters. I was embarrassed at first about my scar because when I wore a v-neck shirt it would show. Eventually I was proud of the scar and thought of it as a war wound. It shows what I went through and more importantly what I overcame.
HBC: What advice do you have for those going through cancer?
DB: Don’t feel defeated. Know that you have the power. Ask a lot of questions and really understand what you’re going through so that you have options. Take advantage of the professionals who want to help you. I always felt it was a team effort and not just me and that made me feel better.
I am firm believer in the pity party. I don’t think you should feel bad for yourself for long time. But you need that one night to cry. If you keep everything inside it will just eat you alive.
I remember when my doctor said “there are no treatment options for you.” I said, “I’m a mother of four and that answer is not an option. We need to figure something out.”
Don’t give up. Find the right person to treat you who has faith in your future.