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Women’s History Month highlights strength, resilience

Women’s History Month highlights strength, resilience

Kelley Tuthill, the guest speaker for a Women’s History Month event, speaks with 2nd Lt. Meredith Gunner, a WHM committee member, following a presentation at Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., March 20. Tuthill spoke about her time as a journalist in Boston and about surviving breast cancer. (U.S Air Force photo by Linda LaBonte Britt)

HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. – A popular former television news reporter and breast cancer survivor delivered an impactful presentation to members of the community gathered here for a Women’s History Month presentation at the Minuteman Commons March 20.

Kelley Tuthill, an Emmy Award-winning former journalist, author and champion for breast cancer awareness and treatment, was the keynote speaker. Her stories tied with the Women’s History Month theme of “In Every Generation, Action Frees our Dreams.”

“A woman is like a tea bag - you can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water,” said Tuthill, restating a quote originally attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt and made popular again by Nancy Reagan. “For me, the water got scalding hot when I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 36.”

While a reporter and anchor at WCVB-TV, the ABC affiliate in Boston, Tuthill covered many of Boston’s top stories throughout the past 20 years. She reported on local sports championships, mob trials and the Boston Marathon bombing and subsequent trial.

“The courage of the survivors to come and testify against [Boston Marathon bomber] Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was powerful to witness,” Tuthill said. “Hearing them share their pain and ongoing struggles was profound and overwhelming.”

She also recalled the sentencing of a man who shot a three-year-old sitting on a porch.

“In court that spring day Kai Leigh’s mother reached out to the gunman, who was pleading guilty, and forgave him,” said Tuthill. “It was an extraordinary act of kindness and love in a city battered by violence for years.”

She noted that the mother had a choice to “get bitter or get better.”

“She chose to get better. And more importantly, she allowed her daughter to do the same,” Tuthill said. “That’s the kind of mother, the kind of woman I know I aspire to be.”

Eight months later, Tuthill would face her own “get bitter or get better” struggle.

“I discovered a lump shortly after breastfeeding my baby and was certain it was simply a clogged duct,” she said.

Tuthill spent much of 2007 enduring a mastectomy with reconstruction, six months of grueling chemotherapy and six weeks of daily radiation.

She spoke about a “strong survival instinct” that emerged within her.

The then-television anchor made the decision to allow cameras from Channel 5 to follow her through cancer treatment. She opened her talk at the Women’s History Month event by playing a portion of that.

“I wanted to shine a light on a topic I thought people should know about,” said Tuthill. “I mostly wanted to make it easier for the next woman.”

Tuthill said cancer treatment “can make someone a little more fearless.”

“It also tends to make you a little greedier about living the life that makes you happy,” she said.

Today Tuthill serves as the vice president of Marketing and Communications at Regis College in Weston, Massachusetts.

“College is such a time of possibility, and I love hearing about the student’s dreams and helping to calm their worries,” she said.

She highlighted local women who have inspired her.

“They have shown me that though the water can get unbearably hot as Nancy Reagan said, we can emerge much stronger than we ever thought possible.”

Col. Chad Ellsworth, the installation commander, pointed out, while introducing Tuthill that challenges remain.

“There are many giants whose shoulders you stand on who have broken through some of the glass ceilings, but there is more work to be done,” he said.

The WHM committee donated $250 to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation in Tuthill’s name.