Why Rene Syler AKA “Good Enough Mother” Chose Offense Over Defense in Beating Breast Cancer

Rene Syler, Black Fitness Today, Good Enough Mother
Photo credit: Leroy Hamilton

In 2006, Rene made a life-changing decision. As the daughter of two breast cancer survivors who had recently been diagnosed with her own breast disease, Rene decided to have a preventive mastectomy, a surgery that was profiled by Oprah Winfrey on her show. That experience also ignited Rene’s passion; now she travels the country as an ambassador for Susan G. Komen for the Cure, spreading the word about early detection and treatment of the disease. Rene was also awarded the prestigious Gracie Allen award for her television series on breast cancer.

But just as she had made the decision to have a mastectomy, Rene was fired from her high-profile TV job. After battling a significant depression, she began to rebuild her life and career. She started by assembling an online presence and community at GoodEnoughMother.com, born of the publication of her first book, Good Enough Mother: The Perfectly Imperfect Book of Parenting.

Rene continues with her television work as host of Sweet Retreats on the Live Well NetworkExhale on Magic Johnson’s Aspire as well as a sought after expert on The Today Show, The Bill Cunningham Show, CNN Headline News, The Doctors, the View and Wendy Williams, among others.

Check out our interview with Rene and learn more about her journey of perseverance.

You describe yourself as a “wife, mother, breast cancer awareness advocate, TV personality/producer and all around badass.” What makes Rene Syler a badass?

Just that title makes me smile! What makes me an all around badass? In two years I lost my job, my breasts, my hair and I found myself. I have been to hell and back and I’m still standing! But not just that; I’m stronger than I was before I went through the storm. I’ve learned, I’ve grown, I’ve faced challenges and overcome then. I didn’t curl up in a ball and give up, though that’s what I wanted to do, many times in fact. I put my head down and leaned into the wind. I kept fighting, I kept moving forward even when all I could do was crawl. The fact that I kept going, that I have never given up in the face of mental and physical challenges.. well THAT’S what makes me an all around badass!

In 2006 you underwent a televised double mastectomy, but were never actually diagnosed with breast cancer. What led to your decision for surgery and to allow the world to watch?

I’ve always been about educating; it’s what led me to a career in TV to begin with. So it just seemed like a natural extension of who I am to want to be public with my journey.

I am the daughter of two breast cancer survivors. My mother was diagnosed with the disease as she was turning 65. They caught it very early on a mammogram; she had a lumpectomy and radiation and is now 17 years cancer-free. My father was also diagnosed with breast cancer. A lot of people think men can’t get the disease but they can and they do; more than 2300 men are diagnosed each year. My father underwent a radical modified mastectomy as his treatment.

Then it was my turn. In 2002, I had just been hired by CBS to be one of the anchors of the newly revamped The Early Show when I was diagnosed with Hyperplasia Atypia, thought of by some to be the stage right before breast cancer. That was sort of the official start of my journey. The following years were something of a blur; I had four biopsies in four years, some more aggressive than others.

After the fourth biopsy, I took a hard look at my life. Was I WAITING until I got breast cancer before I did something about it? I had two first-degree relatives with the disease one being a man, which made doctors think there could possible be a genetic issue. I had genetic testing with inconclusive results. I knew that if I did nothing (and based on my past experience) I was more than likely going to be on the table every year having a biopsy.

I decided to play offense instead of defense. I had a wonderful breast surgeon who spoke to me about my options, which included taking Tamoxifen (to prevent cancer in high risk cases), continuing the way we were or having a preventive mastectomy. Because I was emotionally drained from biopsies year after year and I needed to do something about the significant damage to my breast caused by the biopsies (they were all in the same location in the same breast), I opted for the preventive mastectomy. I scheduled the surgery for January 2007.

Just as I was coming to grips with this difficult decision, I was fired from my job as one of the hosts on The CBS Early Show. My bosses did know I was having the surgery and I’m fairly certain that did not factor in their decision to fire me. But this is how TV goes; it’s just that it could not have happened at a worse time.

So on December 22nd, 2006 I said goodbye to viewers; on January 7th, 2007 I said goodbye to my breasts.

Fast-forward to where we are now. My scars have healed and my life is, well, my life. I no longer have mammograms because I don’t have breast tissue and the surgery reduced my cancer risk to almost zero. I don’t have any regrets and I don’t feel any less of a woman because I don’t have my real breasts (I had reconstruction a few months after the mastectomy). I’m active, healthy and don’t live in fear of breast cancer.

One of the reasons I have made breast health and minority women a priority is because women of color, though diagnosed less, are dying MORE of breast cancer. We need to be more proactive about our health. We need to listen to our bodies. We need to know our family history. We need to stop with self-destructive behaviors. We need to exercise and keep our weight in check if we want to win the battle against breast cancer and so many other issues that plague our communities.

Flip the page as Rene gives valuable tips for mothers and fills us in on what it means to be “good enough!” 

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Ilen & Lauren Bell are the husband and wife team behind Black Fitness Today, born, in 2011, out of their motivation to change culture, build a platform and lead the charge. Their purpose is to help change the culture towards health and fitness in the African-American community, showcase those who are making an impact, and promote healthier living. They also aim to serve as a platform for African-American fitness and health professionals and enthusiasts who are otherwise overlooked in traditional fitness media.

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