Cokie Roberts Reveals Her Cancer Diagnosis

Cokie Roberts is being treated for breast cancer.

In an exclusive interview yesterday, the 58-year-old ABC News veteran told us that her doctor detected a suspicious lump in mid-June and a subsequent mammogram revealed a small tumor in her left breast. Two weeks ago, she underwent a successful lumpectomy at Washington's Sibley Hospital.

Roberts had already announced her departure from "This Week," the Sunday panel show she has co-anchored with Sam Donaldson since 1996, before receiving the diagnosis. She said the cancer was caught early and she expects a clean bill of health after six months of chemotherapy.

She said the treatments, scheduled to start this week, won't "cause any major interference with my work" as a political analyst and commentator covering the midterm elections. "The doctors tell me there are different effects for different people," Roberts said, "and that I am likely to to feel crummy for a day or so after every treatment. ... This is pretty standard."

She added that Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O'Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, both cancer survivors, "are awfully good role models for me."

Roberts is a longtime breast cancer cause celeb who for years has urged women to get regular mammograms. "Fortunately, in the course of my efforts to inform others about the disease, I learned about the benefits of early detection," she said in a statement. "Now I am the beneficiary of that information."

In our interview, Roberts said: "I am very religious about annual mammograms and annual visits to the gynecologist, and I was furious during the period when people were being told that under age 50, they did not need to have mammograms." She has been going for annual mammograms since she was 49, she said. "They do save lives."

She added that a lumpectomy -- which involves a small incision and the removal of the suspicious tissue in one piece -- is always preferable to removing a breast. "In fact, there is no clinical reason to have a mastectomy unless it's everywhere," Roberts said. "The breast cancer community is very much into preservation and avoiding major surgery, and I have never liked the idea of surgery myself. I have never been one of these plastic surgery people."

Given her activism, "I did feel the irony of the situation," Roberts said. The diagnosis "was a surprise" -- and, she acknowledged, a tad scary. But Roberts, the mother of two and grandmother of three, said she was confident enough about her prognosis that she took a planned family vacation at the beach before her lumpectomy. "These days you don't have to make any snap decisions. You have time," she said. "And I wanted to have a vacation with my grandchildren."

Roberts hosted Sunday's installment of "This Week," but doesn't plan to appear on that show after George Stephanopoulos takes over in September. "I want my weekends, and now I have my weekends," she said. The wife of columnist Steve Roberts and the daughter of former House member and ambassador to the Vatican Lindy Boggs, Roberts said that since her diagnosis, "my family has been wonderful and very supportive and loving. They're a great group of people. When we spend time together, what we mainly do is laugh."

Roberts's father, then-House Majority Leader Hale Boggs (D-La.), died in a plane crash in 1972, and her sister Barbara died of a different form of cancer in 1990. Roberts's own brush with mortality hasn't provided a new perspective on life.

"I had a healthy perspective on life already," she said. "I have always cared more about family than my career. I lost my father at age 58 in a terrible accident and I lost my sister at age 51. So I didn't need any extra perspective on life."


* Yesterday afternoon, former House member James Traficant arrived at the low-security Allenwood Federal Correctional Institution in White Deer, Pa., and it appears that our campaign to let him keep his hairpiece has failed miserably. While declining to comment specifically on Traficant, who was sentenced last week on corruption charges, Bureau of Prisons spokeswoman Traci Billingsley told us that "all inmates are treated equally and fairly." We have no choice but to conclude that the bureau's no-hairpiece policy wasn't lifted for our friend Jim -- who now may look something like the Cleveland Plain Dealer's fascinating photo illustration at left.

* It's not every day that a news organization other than this one gives us an assignment, so we paid special attention yesterday when ABC News's online political tipsheet, "The Note," urged The Reliable Source to write about the tragedy of Al Gore losing his Washington barber, Ian McWilliams. He's leaving town with Freddie Mac executive Ruben Jubinsky, his life partner, and Gore told The Note: "Ian is a great friend and has been for many years now. He and Ruben have been in our home on numerous occasions for social events. We just had dinner with Ian recently. He is, of course, a terrific barber." But because McWilliams is moving to L.A., the financial jugular of Democratic presidential politics, we don't see why Gore can't continue to be snipped by him during those frequent fundraising forays.