Joan Lunden wants to be an inspiration.
The former "Good Morning America" anchor was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer in June, and now, the TV journalist has removed her wig to show her bald head on the cover of People's October 6 issue. "I could decide to do nothing, but that's certainly not my personality," the 64-year-old said of going public. "I was handed an opportunity to learn everything that I can about this and try to help others."
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Lunden spoke to fellow cancer survivor Robin Roberts on-air about her diagnosis three months ago. "Robin told me waiting for your hair to fall out is excruciating," she recalled. "So I didn't want to wait."
Just one week after finishing her first chemotherapy treatment, Lunden shaved her head. "You know it's going to happen one of these days and you are wondering how and when, so I just owned it," she said.
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Even so, the cover shoot was daunting. "I had to make this big decision about whether or not to do the cover with no hair," Lunden, who has seven kids, explained. "It certainly isn't the comfortable way to go, but I decided I was going to try and help others and show women that this isn't the end of the world."
Lunden added, "You can go on--and that was hugely empowering."
Looking in the mirror is at times difficult for the host. "It's not an easy thing to go through, and it almost sounds superficial, but when you lose your hair, it just affects the way that you look at yourself in the mirror," she said. "You feel less feminine, pretty or desirable, and it's not an easy thing to go through."
Moreover, she said, "As a mom, you don't want your kids to be concerned."
After 12 weeks of chemotherapy, Lunden received some encouraging news: Her tumors had shrunk by nearly 95 percent, meaning the second and more difficult phase of the treatment would no longer be necessary. "Breast cancer is a tough, challenging journey, and I want to go out there and help people," Lunden said. On Tuesday, the former "Behind Closed Doors" host underwent surgery to remove a tumor.
Lunden will join "Today" as a special correspondent during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October. She phoned in to NBC's morning news show Wednesday to discuss her People cover.
"It was such a tough decision," she admitted. "As a parent, I worried how my kids would think. And it wasn't the comfortable decision--knowing you were going to be seen by everyone in such a vulnerable way--but I know it was the right decision." Lunden added, "I knew I could be a voice for a quarter of a million women who are diagnosed every year with breast cancer, and I wanted to show that your health is more important than your hair. Your hair grows back after you stop chemo, and then you have your life."
Prior to the photo shoot, Lunden spoke with "Today's" Hoda Kotb, a breast cancer survivor, about how her kids influenced her decision to pose wigless. "This was just theoretical, like, 'What do you think guys think? Should Mommy do this picture without hair?'" she recalled. According to Lunden, her son, Max, 11, immediately raised his hand and told her, "'Definitely do it without hair.' I said, 'Really?'" She said her son replied, "'Absolutely. You can make a difference and save lives. You have to do it that way.'"
(E! and NBC are both part of the NBCUniversal family.)