Friday, December 17, 2010

Giving a keynote when you've just had bad news

Here's a keynote story you don't hear every day: Breast cancer physician Marisa Weiss was in the process of being diagnosed with cancer when she had to leave to do a keynote speech in front of a large crowd of women about that very thing, all before she knew the outcome of her tests and the extent of her cancer.  Weiss, who also is the founder of the website breastcancer.org, gave a gripping interview on NPR's Fresh Air this week. From the interview transcript, she tells host Terry Gross about the day after she'd had an irregular mammogram and needed more tests:

Dr. WEISS: ....I had to come back and I was lucky to get an appointment to come back the next day for extra pictures, so extra mammogram pictures to zero in on the area that they were concerned about - and ultrasound. And each of those tests showed more reason for worry and concern. Then I had to race out of the hospital to be the keynote speaker for a luncheon of 400 women an hour away, and then drive back for...


GROSS: About breast cancer, no doubt.

Dr. WEISS: About breast cancer, of course. That's, as I said, is my life...

GROSS: Your life.

Dr. WEISS: ...and for my MRI scan at the end of the day. And after that test I came out and looked at the faces of the radiology technicians who operate the machines and they wouldn't look at me. They were just avoiding my glance. So I knew then it was, you know, it was serious. And then I went from there to radiology reading room and met with the radiologist who was going to, who pulled the MRI images fresh up on the screen. And like a light bulb, there it was, this tumor in my left breast that was clearly a cancer. And while it hadn't yet been biopsied, I've been doing those for so long; I knew I had breast cancer.

You can go here to find full audio for the interview and related material.

Clearly, this is an unusual circumstance--but if anyone knows of other examples of speakers pulling themselves together to deliver a great talk, I know you eloquent women and men do.  Please share them in the comments.

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