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Speaking out, not suffering silently

Cassie Pence
Vail,CO, COLORADO
Special to the DailyAward winning journalist and cancer survivor Linda Ellerbee is the guest speaker at this year's Vail Breast Cancer Awareness luncheon July 12.
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EAGLE-VAIL ” Silence is not what Linda Ellerbee does best.

Ellerbee, an award-winning journalist whom most of you may know from her days at NBC News in the ’70s and ’80s, built a reputation on being one of the first female news anchors to be outspoken, funny and intelligent.

So when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992, there was no way she was going to keep quiet about it.

“As women, we are encouraged to do all our suffering in silence, even to die politely,” Ellerbee said. “We’re making noise now, and good for us, our noise is changing the cures of disease.”

A story about her double mastectomy ran in USA Today, and she continues to tell her story to people across the country who have a connection to breast cancer, “which is pretty much everybody,” she said.

Ellerbee is the guest speaker at the Vail Breast Cancer Awareness Group’s 13th annual luncheon July 12. She invites anyone to come, and promises no one’s going to get bored or depressed.

“I am the oddest speaker about disease you are going to hear,” Ellerbee said. “I am there to have a good time and pass on some things I know and what I’ve learned.”

Ellerbee said when she was first diagnosed, she got it all wrong. She first turned to people who did not have a clue what it meant to have cancer, and although they meant well, it wasn’t what she needed.

“It took me a while to get to a place where that wasn’t true, I’ll tell the story as to how I got to that place,” she said.

She’ll talk about how people ” even doctors and nurses ” should behave around people with cancer. She’ll tell of people’s reactions, some pretty weird, of the news of her diagnosis. And she’ll stress how important it is to know that if you are diagnosed with cancer, no one else owns that disease except you. In such a litigious society, she said, where doctors tell patients less and less, she encourages women to do their own research.

“If I knew then what I know now, I’d probably would still have breasts,” she said.

She’ll discuss how there isn’t enough preventive research out there.

“It’s the 21st century and we are lopping off body parts to cure disease?” she said. There’s something wrong with this picture, and she’ll talk about why. She’ll address lots of issues, some that aren’t so funny, but some that are, like the time she was playing fetch with her dog and one of her prostheses fell out of her shirt.

“I tend not to preach, after covering so many politicians for so many years, I have heard all the bad speeches anybody has ever given,” Ellerbee said. “I encourage people to laugh.”

She also encourages women to bring their men to the luncheon July 12, as she won’t talk about anything “icky,” she said.

Tickets to the luncheon cost $100, and there will be a silent and live auction, as well, to raise money for the Vail Breast Cancer Group. The organization strives to ease the financial and emotional burdens endured by those women in Eagle County who are battling breast cancer. For more information, or to make reservations, call 479-8595.

After her days as an anchor on NBC and CBS, Linda Ellerbee and her partner Rolfe Tessem started Lucky Duck Production company and began producing documentaries for PBS. Ellerbee and Tessem have produced shows all over the television universe in the past 20 years, but one of their longest running programs is Nick News, an awarding-winning show that breaks down hard hitting news stories, like the first Gulf War, for kids.

“Kids have as much sense as grownups, they’re just shorter and younger,” Ellerbee said. “I don’t talk down to kids.”

So in a world of fractured news sources, ranging from TV to print to blogs and internet sites, where does Linda Ellerbee go for news to get informed? She’s a little fractured hereself: NPR in the morning, then on to her lab top for google news. Stories that interest her, she researches more from different sources, sources outside of the U.S. If it’s big news, she hits the 24-hour news stations. And of course, Ellerbee catches “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.”

“And I avoid them all when it’s Anna Nicole and Paris Hilton,” she said.

There’s no doubt the industry has changed and keeps moving, but the new platform has its advantages.

“When journalists speak with many voices, it’s better when there are fewer,” she said. “But when some of them don’t play by the rules, it’s scary. You have to do your own navigation, not just what network or blog, within all those, you must trust the person on a personal basis.”


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