A place for this mom as health advocate

In a more than 40-year career as a TV journalist, public speaker and author, Joan Lunden has reported on virtually every topic. But there are two that she is especially passionate about, in part because they have hit close to home — breast cancer awareness and senior care.

It is in her advocacy for the latter that the Greenwich resident will speak at United Hebrew’s centennial gala on Nov. 6 at the Glen Island Harbour Club in New Rochelle.

In a recent phone interview, Lunden — who appeared on the cover of the March 2016 WAG — marveled at United Hebrew’s track record.

“That’s quite a nonprofit story,” she says, “One hundred years of service, everything from skilled nursing and short-term rehab to assisted living, memory care, home health care and senior housing.”

Elder care is something that Joan, a former “Eyewitness News” reporter and host of “Good Morning America,” became intimately acquainted with after her brother died from complications of diabetes and it became clear that their independent-minded mother, with whom he lived in the family’s beloved, native California, could no longer be on her own. 

“You have to become an expert in senior care overnight,” Lunden says. “We need a plan in place — not just for our parents but for ourselves.”

Part of that plan for Lunden involved A Place For Mom, a free senior referral service. An adviser there assessed her mother and found a small residential home with around-the-clock care where she lived until age 95.

Lunden’s quest to make her mother’s later years truly golden has led her not only to become a senior advocate and spokeswoman for A Place for Mom but to tackle aging in a new book that Forefront Books/Simon & Schuster will release on March 10. As Lunden describes it, “Why Did I Come Into This Room?:  A Candid Conversation About Aging” is a no-holds-barred exploration of a subject that many of us would rather ignore. She understands the feeling.

“I made myself feel comfortable talking about everything,” she says, including such subjects as incontinence and sexual intimacy. 

Yet clearly there is a hunger for knowledge about life in its autumn and winter seasons. As she talks to WAG, she is briefly interrupted a couple of times with good news: Advance sales of the book are humming.

It’s not the first time that a challenging personal experience has led her to put pen to paper, so to speak. Her book “Had I Known” came out of her successful battle with triple negative breast cancer, which was diagnosed in 2014 but only after an ultrasound. (Her state-of-the-art 3-D mammogram had been clear.)

Still Lunden, whose beat had been health, had interviewed Susan Love, author of the bosom bible “Dr. Susan Love’s Breast Book” and an advocate for ultrasound for dense breasts like Lunden’s. (Breast cancer can be hard to diagnose in dense tissue as both show up white on a mammogram.)

“If I hadn’t done the ultrasound, we might not be having this conversation today,” she says.

And that’s why, she adds, it’s incumbent on women to know their breast density. To that end, she has lobbied Congress for mandatory mammography reporting so that patients, as well as their doctors, will know their breast density scores.

She’s talking to WAG days after Cokie Roberts’ death from complications of breast cancer and remembers her ABC colleague as a journalist who set the bar high for others in the profession and a mother who once did a spot with one of her children in a baby carrier (off-camera).

“That was our lives back then,” Lunden says, recalling how ABC told her not to mention to the press on her first day of “Good Morning America” that she had her firstborn with her at the office and that the baby would be traveling with her. But the press asked about it, Lunden answered honestly and the network changed its tune, sensing a public relations goldmine.

Lunden’s first three daughters are now grown, with careers of their own, and she’s in the midst of raising her younger four children, two teenage sets of boy-girl twins. Indeed, she rings off by saying she’s headed to a high school football game — a mom who has found another place as an advocate for people living longer better.

United Hebrew’s 100th Anniversary Gala Celebration will be held from 6 to 9:30 p.m. Nov. 6 at the Glen Island Harbour Club. For more, call 914-632-2804, ext. 1190, or email Grace Ferri, vice president of development and marketing, at gferri@uhgc.org.

For more on Joan Lunden and “Why Did I Come Into This Room?,” visit joanlunden.com and simonandschuster.com.

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