12/24/2014 05:30 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Exclusive Interview: Joan Lunden Tackles Cancer And Plans To Win

Joan Lunden is grateful.

As she continues to battle breast cancer with a good prognosis going forward, the former Good Morning America host, Lunden, 64, is grateful for the life she has lived and has led. She's touched by the tremendous outpouring of support she's gotten from fans during her health battle.

And now, Lunden just wants to keep making a difference in people's lives as she has been as a health and wellness and women's advocate. She's also become a leading advocate for caregiving, having cared several years for her mom, Gladyce, who suffered from dementia and died this past year just shy of her 95th birthday.

Lunden is an advocate for A Place For Mom, a senior living referral and information services providing resources and assistance in finding elderly care and housing at no cost.

Lunden, who appeared bald in a striking issue of People in September 2014, said the experience of going through cancer and treatment has changed her. She said Dec. 23 on the Today show where she is a special correspondent that "I can see the finish line" in her battle with cancer.

How are you feeling?

I'm feeling quite well right now. I took a 12-week round of chemo over the summer. I wasn't feeling quite as well during that. But I did very well with it because I kept myself physically fit, and ate a very clean diet. But it has a cumulative effect so by the end of the round you're extremely fatigued. I took a break from it, and we did a lumpectomy. That was successful, and I have two to three months of chemo (which she recently finished) and probably a month of radiation after that (which she will start in January). I realized there are no short cuts when you're dealing with cancer. You want to be absolutely sure you're taking care of getting rid of the cancer the best way you can because you don't want to visit this two, three, four or five years down the road.

What's your prognosis?

My prognosis is excellent. I do have somewhat of a rare and aggressive virulent kind of breast cancer. I have something called triple negative breast cancer. Most breast cancer are dealing with estrogen or progesterone. A small little subset--17 to 20 percent of breast cancers are triple negative. We don't have any of those receptors, and therefore there's no targeted therapy for us. Fortunately triple negative breast cancer is very chemo sensitive. It leaves you with one choice and one choice only to go through chemotherapy, which is very toxic and hard on the body. It's a challenging regimen to be on, but if you take good care of yourself, you get through it. I can tell you that you lose your hair, eyelashes and eyebrows. But you know what, it all grows back. It's one of those things, a transition, a chapter and a challenge. My prognosis is terrific. I shrunk my cancer by 60 percent in round one and there is no reason to think I won't be cancer free by the time we start the new year.

What has been the reaction you've received?

It has been incredibly heartwarming. I will say that cancer changes you. You come in one person and go out another. You have this incredible new appreciation for life and for the loved ones and friends in your life. Too bad we all don't really have an understanding about how fantastic our loved ones and friends would be in the moment of crisis. We would appreciate them a little bit more.

What about from fans?

For me, I had this added layer and that was this amazing fan base out there. I always knew they were on the other side of the TV, but when I was on TV fulltime we didn't have social media. We knew they were there because you saw the Nielsen ratings, but they were still kind of detached. Now, they all write me. As I scroll through my Twitter of thousands of tweets, I read one after another. People are taking time to stop and write me to say I'm thinking of you and I'm including you in my prayers. I know you'll make it through this. I know you're strong and courageous.

What's your reaction to that?

I admit every now and then I might read 40 of those in a row, and I stop and say, I sure hope they're all right. It has been amazing to me that it's presented itself to me that I'm hearing from all of these people. I have to tell you that I have gotten an incredible amount of strength from all of those people. I would have never guessed that would have been part of my healing and where I would garner my strength because I have never had this experience before.

Who is contacting you?

I hear from everyone--male and female. There are mostly women who write into my website and share their story because I added a breast cancer page and there's a place they can click and share their story. They are by the thousands. Never did I anticipate that happening. It has been an opportunity for me to keep myself focused on how I can make a difference in other women's lives and now I can candidly save lives and now focus on the disease.

What advice do you have for women?

Get checked early and do self-exams. I'll be honest with you: I consider myself smart and educated. I've done a million stories on self-exams but I wasn't given myself self-exams. I want to be honest so every woman out there who isn't doing it knows that I admitted it. The secret of having a good prognosis is catching it early. If you catch it early, we're all very lucky to be living in this day and age. We have the medicine to deal with it. If you catch it early, you probably will survive it and you have to keep doing those self-exams and you have to be getting your mammograms. You start doing it at 40 and you have to do it regularly. You also have to know whether your mother or one of her siblings had breast cancer at an earlier age and if so you need to get checked earlier.

What happened with you?

If there's one thing that came out, the resounding point that has come out with my sharing my story is I walked out of a mammogram that day with a clean bill of health and I walked across the hall and had a ultrasound and heard the words, "you have breast cancer." Forty percent of American women should have ultrasounds because they have dense breast tissue. You have to ask your radiologist about your body. Ask if you have dense breast tissue. If you have more than 50 percent, you need an ultrasound. Talk to your doctor about it because the doctor has to recommend it in order for it to be paid by insurance. A lot of women perked up and said she got a mammogram, and it was clear when she walked out she actually had breast cancer. It's made a lot of women ask if they're a ticking time bomb. They need to go back to their radiologist and ask for you last report on your mammogram. If it doesn't say it on the report, call up the radiologist and ask because they have to tell you.

What have you learned about yourself in going through this ordeal?

I'm one of those people who don't tend to break down and cry and dwell on the negative. There's not a "woe is me" kind of bone in my body. I think everybody expected me to approach this with strength. I don't think they expected me to walk into a salon and ask a person I have never met before to shave my head. Even doing that, I owned it. I was told my hair was going to fall out in a couple of weeks and I wasn't interested in waiting around a couple of weeks for it to fall out. Instead, I did it on my own and on my own terms.

What did you learn?

I think I learned more about my own personal strength. I'm incredibly grateful. I think the thing that changed about me the most is how grateful I am for life and how great my life is and where I live and for my kids. My older daughters all rallied around me and my fan base rallied around me. I don't think I realized just how much that would occur so I think the change in my gratitude and my awareness of all of that is probably is the biggest change. I also changed just how I live my life. I went on a no wheat, no sugar and no dairy diet. That is a full out anti-cancer diet and I think it had a lot to do with the success of my chemo and I plan on staying on this diet for the rest of my life because I don't plan on dealing with cancer again.

How did you feel about posing bald for the People?

I wasn't sure how I was going to answer that question truth be told.

Before I did it I wasn't sure how I was going to feel afterward. To be candid, I didn't know if I would be embarrassed walking into the grocery store or walking anywhere. I don't think I walked into the store until the magazine came on the stand. I was afraid how people would take it, and I wanted them to take it in the right way and understood I did it for the right reasons.

Why did you do it?

I did it to be a voice for millions of other people who feel like they don't have a voice. I did it to raise the level of national conversation. Since I did that cover, I have been contacted by US senators in Washington who are working on legislation that would make it mandatory for radiology labs to recommend to the patient and conferring physician that these women get ultrasounds, and that's the first step to having them paid for. Otherwise, a lot of women can't go shell out $650 for an ultrasound. I understand by doing what I did has put in a position where I can make a difference in this world, and I can actually have a hand in bringing about some real change to save lives.

That means a lot to you?

What's important to me is that at the end of my life you see that year I was born and the year I died and you see that dash in between. I want to have done something with that dash. Not that I wanted to be presented with cancer to deal with, but it got dropped in my lap and I chose to do something positive with it.

As a longtime host on ABC's Good Morning America, what was your favorite moment?

There are always those amazing historical moments when you're reporting on the inauguration of a president or the Olympics going on or the tearing down of the Berlin Wall. Being the host of Good Morning America was the most incredible seat to view the world. You spoke with every celebrity and every expert. You were there at every historical moment sharing it with the world. I'm like a self-help junkie. Probably my favorite spots on the show weren't necessarily whomever was starring in the next big movie. To be perfectly candid, I loved talking to all the experts--all of the doctors, scientists and researchers. To me being a magazine self-help junkie, that was like I had the best job in the whole world and you were always learning. Those were really my favorite moments.

Does any single moment stand out?

Was it a favorite moment when you had the adrenaline go through you when you were interviewing the President of the United States and having the ability to count four or five different presidents as friends? I was able to spend enough time at the White House that I became very good friends with the Fords, Clintons and the Bushes. That's the most amazing part of having the role that I did.

What else was special?

Being able to interview a Robin Williams since you could never prepare for it, and you never knew what was coming. Those were the all of the unbelievable special moments but again if you look at my life since leaving, I've pretty much have stuck to what was my favorite part of the show, which was interviewing experts and being a health and wellness and women's advocate. I do health media campaigns all year long year after year after year for all kinds of organizations from heart to colon cancer. That's at the heart of Joan Lunden--helping people make better decisions in their lives and helping to make a difference in people's lives. That's my mission. To me, it's incredibly self-fulfilling. Working with this caregiving space definitely falls in line with that.

Read the conclusion of our interview with Joan Lunden tomorrow on

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