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The television personality spoke to Yahoo Life about her cancer experience in honor of World Cancer Day. Burke was already living with Hashimoto’s disease, a form of hyperthyroidism, when her doctor found a nodule at her routine physical in 2012. At the time, she was co-hosting Dancing With the Stars after returning to the competition following her 2007 win.
“I remember being in the kitchen in the morning and getting the phone call and I sort of just wanted to carry on with my coffee routine,” Burke, who has four children, explained of that life-changing phone call. “I was like, OK, I’m gonna get back to you. And they’re like, ‘No, no, no, you have to process this. And we have to schedule surgery.’ I still couldn’t wrap my head around it, which I think is quite a normal reaction. And then as a mom, I was thinking about my kids and my family.”
For Burke, the scariest thing about cancer was the association it has with death.
“I’m not a person who panics, but I did have to sort of take it in and take a beat,” she said. “I had to say to myself, ‘Now what?’ But you don’t really know the ‘now what’ when you hear information like that. You get on the internet, and you start reading about the worst case scenario.”
Her treatment plan included the full removal of her thyroid — something she was “nervous” about as a potential risk of the surgery is losing one’s voice.
“That would have been a game-changer for me, professionally,” she shared.
Burke has been cancer-free ever since her surgery, and her battle with cancer has fueled her passion for helping others deal with the same health issues. In 2014, she became the face of the American Cancer Society’s “Bucket List” campaign and has advocated for cancer awareness.
“Sometimes you have to get educated,” Burke, who created the app Brooke Burke Bodyto help people achieve their fitness goals, explained. “It’s difficult to understand the medical process. And I want to really be able to help people on that journey. I was very surprised to learn how common thyroid cancer is, both in men and women.”
Burke believes we all need to be advocates for our own bodies as well — and should encourage our loved ones to stay up-to-date on their health needs.
“When it comes to our health and wellness, we really have to stay on top of it,” she says. “I’m just a champion of information, of taking advantage of medical research that we have available to us. Sometimes you need that little nudge. My girlfriend called me the other day and she’s like, ‘Did you schedule your mammogram?’ And I was like, ‘I’m a little bit late.’ And she’s like, ‘Well, we’re going together.’ I love that. There’s value in that. We all need a little helping hand along the way, so that’s why I’m so vocal about it.”
In addition to staying on top of our own wellbeing, Burke says that the fight against cancer is one we can all participate in.
“There’s so much that we can do to lend a helping hand,” she notes. “Be a support system. Get involved in a charity. Give a little bit — the cost of a cup of coffee a day in our country is a game-changer when it comes to medical research. Spread awareness. I was a really responsible patient and I’m super grateful for all the people that are in my life, from the medical side to the personal side, who really made an incredible difference. Fight the fight, have faith and just get educated. That’s the most important thing.”
–Produced by Kat Vasquez