CBS News's official press release had been served sunny side up. Rene Syler would be leavingThe Early Show
to "pursue other media opportunities."
The hard-boiled reality is another version of the same old TV story. Syler got word early this month that her time was up on the No. 3-rated program. The news came as she prepared to face another crossroads. On Jan. 9, the 43-year-old former Dallas anchor will undergo a bilateral prophylactic mastectomy rather than live in constant fear of breast cancer, for which she's at high risk. She had been preparing a story on her impending surgery, with CBS News management approval. Instead her last day with Early Show will be on Dec. 22nd. No one said life is fair.
"They called me in and told me, 'We've been thinking and we want to go in another direction,' " Syler says in a telephone interview with unclebarky.com. "I'm really kind of surprised myself at how well I'm handling all of this. I've just come to realize that these things happen. I've been in television for almost 20 years, and what are you gonna do?
"New management comes in and they have new ideas. You pick up the playbook and you try your best. And if it doesn't work, you move on . . . It's a little bit tough, because you try to be a good soldier. Still, there are times when you're sitting in your office, and your self-esteem is a bit battered."
She joined Early Show in October 2002 after anchoring and reporting for five years at CBS-owned KTVT-TV in Dallas. Before that she spent five years at the city's ABC affiliate, where Syler met her husband, Buff Parham.
They now have two children, daughter Casey, 10, and son Cole, 8. She's determined to stay in their lives. That's why Syler is having her breasts removed in a three-and-a-half-hour procedure that will require followup surgery four to six months later. She made the decision after some agonizing soul-searching with her doctor. Her work with the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation also played a role. At its annual "Race for the Cure," she has seen many women running in memory of others who died of breast cancer.
"I can't do that, and I don't want to do that," Syler says. " I have a young family, a family that needs me. And the thought of leaving my children and my husband when I could actually do something . . . Yes, it's radical, no doubt about it. But it's a price I'm willing to pay so I can reduce that risk."
Both of her parents had breast cancer, and in 2003 Syler was diagnosed with atypical ductal hypoplasia, in which cells in the ducts of the breast "grow rapidly and not in a uniform fashion," she explains.
Her risks of getting breast cancer have been almost off the charts since then, even after surgery that she describes as "very scarring and disfiguring." Yearly biopsies and mammograms have been required ever since.
"They're very painful and the recovery was very difficult," she says. "When my doctor told me I'd never have to have another biopsy, another mammogram or MRI, that's very appealing to me. Right now there's not a day that goes by that I don't think about breast cancer -- several times. So it's been tough, and I would like to do something real and substantial to reduce that risk."
Syler's other priority is her first book, Good Enough Mother, scheduled to be published in March. It's intended to rebut the super mom syndrome. One of her sounding boards has been Dallas anchor- reporter Ginger Allen, who's also the mother of two young children. Allen had felt guilty about working overtime on Halloween and missing out on her kids' trick or treating.
"We had a conversation about it, and she was so stressed," Syler remembers. "I explained to her that my whole philosophy was that I didn't have to be perfect as a parent. I just had to be good enough. My kids are going to be fine, upstanding citizens, even if I'm not perfect."
Syler says she has no idea whether her three Early Show colleagues, Harry Smith, Hannah Storm and Julie Chen (wife of CBS Corporation president Leslie Moonves), will survive whatever makeover is coming.
"I don't think they would tell me. I'm pretty much out of the loop now," she says. "You go through something like this and you think, 'God, I'm never gonna work again.' You feel horrible. But here's the difference between Rene at 33 and Rene at 43. I want to take it easy for just a second. I want to jump off the treadmill. I have a lot of diverse interests, and writing this book has been incredibly liberating. The words couldn't get out of me fast enough, and I want to see if I can turn it into a screenplay. But yes, I think of myself as a TV person, so I'm sure at some point I'll be back in TV."
For now, though, "I think I'm going to chill a bit. The example I want to show my kids is that your character is not about who you are when times are good. It's when times are tough. They've heard me talking about my surgery. But what's so great about being a kid is they then say, 'OK, can we get some ice cream now?'
"They're so resilient. they just hop around and always think everything is going to be OK. I have to be careful about the cues I leave for them, so they think that I'm not afraid. I'm not going to let them see that, because they don't need it. The big thing is they can't imagine their lives without their mommy.
"And that's why I'm going to do this."