Photo by Kelly White
Emmy-winning journalist Zoraida Sambolin shared her story of how breast cancer changed her life on Saturday at Little Company of Mary Hospital’s 4th annual Cancer Survivor Event at the Double Tree Hilton in Alsip.
By Kelly White
Zoraida Sambolin is a woman with many titles. She is an Emmy-winning journalist, a Weekday Edition co-anchor of NBC 5 News Today, a mother, and a breast cancer survivor.
Sambolin shared her story of how breast cancer changed her life on Saturday with more than 200 attendees at Little Company of Mary Hospital’s 4 th annual Cancer Survivor Event at the Double Tree Hilton, 5000 W. 127 th St., Alsip.
“ Hearing you have breast cancer knocks the breath out of you,” said Sambolin, of Chicago. “Cancer makes you see your worth, value and purpose and think about those things a lot. It teaches you to be present in and grateful for every moment. When cancer affects you, everything becomes sharper and clearer.”
Upon receiving her breast cancer diagnosis of Stage 1 breast cancer in her left breast in 2013, Sambolin, who was in the midst of a booming career in the media world, made the decision to undergo a double mastectomy at the age of 47.
Sambolin said her decision stemmed from Angelina Jolie undergoing double mastectomy surgery after learning she had an elevated risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer.
“ The decision to opt for a mastectomy was a difficult one, but was made easier by reading Jolie's perspective,” Sambolin said. “Thank goodness, we as women can make choices about our bodies.”
Sambolin’s children, Nicholas, now 21, and Sophia, now 16, also played a factor in her decision at the time.
“ I thought about my children. I thought about not being there for them,” Sambolin said. “Getting the courage to tell my kids, especially my son, was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, but he gave me strength. He was the last familiar face I saw before surgery and the first that I saw when I came out.”
A former Oak Park resident, Sambolin joined NBC 5 in 2002, working also for the Spanish-language Telemundo network. In 2008, she was paired with Rob Elgas to co-anchor the station's pioneering early bird 4:30 a.m. newscast. She left Chicago in November 2011, moving to New York for a network opportunity as co-anchor of the new "Early Start" program on CNN, which airs locally from 4 to 6 a.m. weekdays.
It was during a nationwide Early Start broadcast when Sambolin made her breast cancer diagnosis and decision to have a double mastectomy public. She had a history of fibrocystic breast tissue, which made making a diagnosis difficult, and said early detection through regular mammograms was very important.
She rejoined the morning NBC 5 team in March of 2013 after spending two years on Early Start, and in May of 2013, she stuck to her plan and underwent a double mastectomy.
“ For me, choosing reconstruction was not an easy choice,” Sambolin said.
Her husband, Kenny Williams, executive vice president of the Chicago White Sox, said it was a decision they made together.
“ When I heard Zoraida had cancer, what I really heard was, ‘we have cancer’,” Williams said. “I couldn't care less about what she looked like on the outside after surgery. This was something that tried to kill her.”
Sambolin said Williams was her caregiver and her strength throughout her battle with breast cancer.
“ All I tried to do in the whole process was to be in tune to what she needed,” Williams said. “It brings a different kind of intimacy to a relationship. It brought us closer together.”
“ Breast cancer is scary no matter the diagnosis,” Sambolin said. “Judgments are toxic. You need lots of support and empathy from your loved ones and doctors.”
Sambolin said self-care is extremely important.
“ When I was diagnosed, the hardest part was for me to slow down and take care of myself,” Sambolin said. “My first thought was, ‘I don’t have time for this’, but Kenny was there for me and helped me to do just that; to teach me how to slow down and take care of myself. I am beyond blessed to enjoy every day with the people I love. There is nothing like cancer to put life in perspective.”
Those in attendance at Saturday’s Cancer Survivor event said hearing Sambolin’s personal story was encouraging.
“ I love everything about this event,” said Carole Wilson, integrative therapy artist at Little Company of Mary Hospital and a Palos Heights resident. “This brings survivors and those who care about them together in an environment where they are able to talk to others who have gone through exactly what they are going through.”