BOSTON (CBS) – Breast cancer is a very personal diagnosis.
When a woman with breast cancer holds a powerful leadership position, the decision to talk about battling the disease involves more than just herself.
Simmons College President Helen Drinan has spent the academic year sharing her private struggle with the entire campus community.
“(My doctor) said they were right to bring you back (because) we think you have breast cancer,” Drinan said.
That was late August and almost immediately Drinan decided she wouldn’t keep it a secret.
“I do remember thinking, if I’m going to do this, it’s going to have to be in a public way because I’m the president of a women’s college,” she recalled.
Now in her seventh year as president, Drinan told the campus about her condition in her weekly “Thoughts From The President” email.
Drinan was fortunate that it was stage 1 but her tumor was aggressive.
She focused on educating young students about prevention and early detection.
“I think it’s very important for women to understand this is not life ending, even if you get a diagnosis, and the sooner you get it the better,” she says.
The president says some days have been harder than others when it comes to going to work every day while receiving treatment.
The exhaustion of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation made it difficult to spend time at student events, but being open about her illness led to a deeper connection and a larger lesson about what it means for a woman executive to be honest about coping with challenges.
“Nobody has a perfect life and they have to figure out how they’re going to bring all the resources they can to their work in spite of that,” she said.
The reaction on campus has been nothing but positive.
“I thought it was brave – at Simmons they encourage us to be brave strong women and I think that was something brave for her to do,” said Alicia Capone, a graduate student.
Fellow student Shannon Pacella said “It shows that you can overcome a lot and still be a leader no matter what gender you are or what you’re going through”
“What will stay with me is that every single day is a gift,” Drinan said.
She says she feels good, pointing out that her physical six months prior to her mammogram and the mammogram from the year before showed no sign of cancer.
Drinan describes herself as the poster child for getting regular mammograms and encourages women to get them done in a timely manner.