Former CBS Early Show anchor RenÃ© Syler of Chappaqua turned a bumper crop of lemons—like being fired and having a double mastectomy—into her own special blend of lemonade.
You’re a successful national TV news personality when one day, five weeks before you are scheduled to undergo a preventative double mastectomy and four months before your first book is due to hit store shelves, you’re fired. What do you do? If you’re RenÃ© Syler, you squeeze the heck out of all those lemons and whip up a great big vat of lemonade.
Syler, 44, who had been an anchor for CBS News’s The Early Show for a little over four years, was abruptly terminated last December. “I had no idea,” she says. “I knew that there were going to be changes, but I was in total shock when I realized I’d be one of them.” In January, she underwent a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy. The procedure was to have been covered in a subsequent segment of The Early Show. “To lose a job as high profile as mine was devastating enough but to know I was undergoing major surgery that would alter my future and to have all of that happening together was unthinkable.”
The unthinkable, however, was Syler’s reality. Still, she says, “I never let myself get too down in the dumps.” It helped that she had a book due out. “I was very optimistic about that.” The book is Syler’s Good-Enough Mother: The Perfectly Imperfect Book of Parenting, co-written with Karen Moline.
The idea for the book was born in the fall of 2005. “I was talking to a friend who was a local reporter,” Syler remembers. “She was saying that she felt so bad that, working overtime, she missed taking her two young kids out for Halloween. I said, â€˜Your kids are six months old and two, so just go get some candy.’ I knew there had to be a groundswell of women struggling to be all things to all people. I think some people who saw me on TV must have thought, â€˜She must have it all together.’ I thought, â€˜If only they knew!’”
Primarily a light-hearted look at Syler’s own “imperfect” mothering, Good-Enough Mother also delves into her decision to undergo the double mastectomy. Both of her parents had had breast cancer and she herself was diagnosed with a precancerous condition, hyperplasia with atypia, that necessitated four painful biopsies in four years.
Doctors estimated that she had a 40-percent chance of developing cancer. “I couldn’t continue the way I was going. From all the biopsies, one breast was roughly half-a-cup-size smaller than the other; the way it was going, there wasn’t going to be any breast left there at all.” After her breasts were removed, Syler underwent breast implant surgery. And as a result, she says, today she has “peace of mind. No more biopsies and mammograms.”
Plus she got to share her story with a TV audience—a way bigger TV audience than that of The Early Show. “We had shot a portion of tape already. So when I was fired, I pitched the story to Oprah; I felt it was too important to die on the vine.” Oprah devoted nearly an hour to Syler’s story on her show.
These days, says Syler, she is “busy doing the mom thing” in her early 1900s stone-and-shingle home in Chappaqua (dubbed “Picketfenceville” in her book), which she shares with her husband of 13 years, Buff Parham, a vice president of sales for Univision, the Spanish language television network, and their 11-year-old daughter, Casey, and 9-year-old son, Cole. She’s up every morning at 5 and does an-hour-and-45-minutes of free weights and cardio at Club Fit in Briarcliff Manor. Then, she walks the family dog, a yellow Lab, three miles from her house to Pleasantville and retruns to make breakfast for her kids and then take them to school.
“What you see is what you get with RenÃ©,” says her close friend Stacey Cohen of Mount Kisco. “The week she was scheduled to be on The View and The Today Show, I bumped into her shopping at T.J. Maxx in Mount Kisco, one of our favorite stores.”
Syler hopes to return to TV, write another book, (“a Good-Enough Mother cookbook,”), and get a sitcom made based on her first book (it’s already been optioned by Without a Trace TV star Anthony LaPaglia’s production company). “So much of life is organic,” Syler says. “It’s up to you to take advantage of the opportunities.”