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My Family's Fight With Cancer

The Early Show co-anchor Rene Syler shares the very personal story of her family's battle with breast cancer.

This year, over 200,000 women in this country will be diagnosed with breast cancer. For many of them, battling the disease will consume almost every aspect of their lives.

It is a difficult and emotional road that both my mother and my father have traveled.

When I was growing up, my parents loved to listen to Ray Charles.

"I have a wonderful family," my mom, Anne, says. "I had a husband who helped me raise two wonderful girls."

I know it's not fashionable to say you had a great childhood, but I really did.

Going through some photos, mom says, "Here's your mom and dad in their heyday."

It is a picture of my parents when they were young and life was full of promise; there were no thoughts of illness and certainly not of cancer.

What I remember about my dad was he was the ultimate protector. I was too young to know what breast cancer was. I just knew my dad was sick.

Mom says, "He was in his late 40s. And they found the lump on his breast. And I don't think anybody thought men had breast cancer. It was a surprise to us when they said he did have breast cancer, but he was at stage three."

My dad ultimately had a radical mastectomy, which took care of the breast cancer. But he died from heart disease at the age of 59.

My mother was the original granola girl. She ate healthy before it was fashionable. So I was stunned when she called to say that she too had been diagnosed with breast cancer.

Mom says, "And it was a mammogram that found a very early cancer, which was very lucky for me because it was not only stage one, it was very small. I'm now going on a six-year survivor because of finding it on my mammogram."

It was the beginning of a harrowing journey.

You know, we don't see eye to eye on everything. And I think, like most parents and their adult children, I really had to take on the role of the parent in this.

Mom agrees. Referring to me, she says, "I was calling her Mom a couple of times."

And, you know, there were times I'd hang up the phone and say, "I am going to throttle her myself. Because it was hard, it was difficult. It was difficult for her on that end. It was difficult for me.

There were two big arguments. First, my mother believed that faith alone would heal her.

Mom notes, "I was in San Antonio at the time, and she was in Fort Worth. So, I was dealing with what I thought would be the right thing for me, which was prayer, and hands on, laying hands on, and things like that. And I knew pretty much that I was pretty well saved anyway."

And then she went to a prayer service, and she felt as if she had been healed. The next day, doctors go in, and they can't find it. And Mom is like, "I am out of here." She's like, "I am so out of here. You can't stop me. I've been healed."

Ultimately, they did find the lump on a sonogram and she agreed to have the surgery. The second clash came over radiation therapy.

My mother absolutely did not want radiation. She didn't want to get burned, which sometimes happens. And all the doctors were saying, '"You really should do this.'" And I was saying, "You know what? A small burn versus years of survival." I didn't see it. There was no comparison. And that's when I said, "You'll get out there, and you'll eat a bale of hay every day, if they say that's going to save your life. Now get to it.'"

Every time the phone rang and it was her, I wasn't sure what kind of mood she would be in. I was consumed with getting her well and I couldn't get a handle on her emotional well-being.

Mom says, "And then you cry. And then you do get down. But again, with the help of Rene and other friends and the fact that I know I shouldn't get down. You get back up."

But you know it's often been said that you hear many cancer patients say, "Why me?" And then they say, "Well, why not me?" It's so random. That's what is so frightening I think about this is that it is so random. You can do everything the right way and still be diagnosed with cancer. And that was the case with her, so why not her?

My mother drew support from my sister, Tracy, who takes a softer approach than I do and from the thousands of breast cancer survivors who take part every year in the Komen Foundation's Race for the Cure.

Mom says, "It's just the best feeling you can have to see all these - some of them 10-year survivors, some of them 40-year survivors. It's just good. It makes you know you've got a fighting chance."

Life isn't always wrapped up in a neat little bow, but if there's anything that came out of this whole experience for my mother and me, it is that early detection is absolutely critical.

I think everybody likes to talk about mammograms, and how painful they are, on and on and on. But you know what? For what they do, it's a minor bit of discomfort, for a world of health and well-being. It's just to us, there is no comparison.

In fact, 90 percent of breast cancer is now caught in the early stages, thanks to mammograms and early detection.

On Thursday, I'll share a video diary that I kept when I was recently forced to confront my own fears about breast cancer.