WEST ORANGE, NJ – “Anyone can get cancer,” Joan Lunden said as she shared her breast cancer story with thousands of survivors and supporters during the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure on Sunday.

The event kicked off with more than 4,000 participants gathering to raise money for the fight against breast cancer. Startling statistics make the case for the need to raise funds and awareness. According to the organization's website, one in eight women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime. Over a half million dollars was raised by the start of the 2015 event. 

Lunden, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014, was the Honorary Survivor Ambassador for the event.

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The beloved television host and author, best known for appearing on "Good Morning America" for nearly two decades, connected with the audience by sharing the story of her life path, including the challenges and triumphs. 

Lunden grew up in California and lost her father, a pilot and cancer surgeon, who died in a plane crash when she was 13. She spoke of how the circumstances of her life and finding out that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer, brought her back to reflect upon her journey and to re-evaluate her life’s mission.

"I could have been very negative about this…but I decided to turn this breast cancer diagnosis into a positive and be out in front.”

During the event, Lunden first spoke to survivors and took pictures with them in the survivors tent, a VIP area for survivors and their families.

She greeted the crowd in the survivors’ tent saying, “I officially belong in this tent since I have finished all of my treatment.” In response, the crowd of hundreds, erupted in applause.

Lunden added, “I finished nine months and 16 rounds of Chemo and six weeks of radiation. Last month I crossed my own finish line. Nice try, cancer, but I’m still here!”

After greeting fans and taking pictures, she later led a processional of survivors to join her on the main stage, as they held banners showing how many years cancer-free they have been. Lunden took the main stage before thousands and discussed the challenges that she faced with deciding to use her diagnosis to help others.

“I will tell you, for a few days, I thought that I was not going to tell anyone." She then changed her mind and decided to help others, "I have shared every aspect of my life on television. It would be completely uncharacteristic of me, being Joan Lunden, not to share this part of my journey with you.”

She looked at the life of her dad being a cancer surgeon and then her diagnosis of having breast cancer as a way to turn a negative into a positive. “It had the potential of helping so many other women. And then I remembered that my dad was a cancer surgeon and I have been acutely aware of the fight against cancer since I was a little girl. He was an avid pilot and a specialist in cancer at a time in this country when there were not a lot of specialists and he used to fly all over speaking to the American Cancer Society.”

She said that the prayers and positive energy that came to her from strangers on social media gave her energy and kept her going. "They have inspired me to get out in front of this battle." She now says that it is her turn "to give that back to others who are facing the same breast cancer journey”.

“I knew that this would be my new mission and that I would have an opportunity to carry on my dad’s legacy.”

Lunden spoke of how she had been going for annual mammograms and had been given a clean bill of health. However, as fate would have it, she was part of a medical television interview where 3-D mammograms were discussed and the doctor also educated her on breast density to determine breast health. 

She said, “If it hadn’t been for that interview, I would not have known to ask for a second test. I shudder to think what my diagnosis of triple-negative fast growing cancer would have been had I not done that interview.”

She mentioned that she did not have a family history and did not have any of the risk factors. She continued, "I mustered up the faith to do the People magazine cover wearing a bald head."

Lunden's advice to women is to ask their doctors to test their breast density, in addition to the mammogram. She wanted to make women aware that knowing the breast density could be an indicator to potential health risks.

She cautioned the women that approximately 40 percent of women that have breast cancer may not be detected by the mammogram alone and said one must find out what their breast density is. Things are changing and we are fighting hard for legislation to require the test she added. “Women need to be fully informed and get all of the information about the health of their breasts so that they will be able to make this life and death decision as to when the need an ancillary test,” she added.

Lunden’s recent book, "Had I Known" is about her breast cancer journey. She continued by adding that she had gotten some negative feedback about her telling women to ask about their breast density during their annual mammography visit.

The audience responded with cheers when she said, “I will not apologize for informing and empowering women to better understand their breast health.”

She says that she chronicled her journey at www.Joanlunden.com to take the mystery out of the breast cancer journey.

The program closed with thousands of survivors and family members singing and dancing to “I Will Survive,” as they marched toward the start line to begin the walk.

Lunden and Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo cut the ribbon at the start of the walk.

To make a general donation to the cause, click here.

TAPinto.net was a proud sponsor of this event.