On December 2, 2006, co-anchor René Syler had just completed an Early Show broadcast when a calendar reminder popped up on her computer screen. It was for a meeting with the president of CBS News, and she knew she hadn’t put it on her schedule. Her stomach knotted as she pushed her chair back from her desk and stood up. “The show had been in flux,” with ratings trailing those of the Today show and Good Morning America, Syler recalls. “As I walked into that meeting, I just knew. I was fired.”
There’s no such thing as a good moment to be fired, but the timing for Syler could not have been worse. Coming from a family with a history of aggressive breast cancer—both her parents were survivors—Syler never missed an annual scan, and over the past four years she’d watched a white buckshot pattern of microcalcifications pepper the images of her breast tissue. Each year biopsies of the suspicious area showed no evidence of cancer. A genetic test for the breast-cancer gene came back inconclusive, but her doctors were concerned. “Precancer,” they called the masses. By this point, four biopsies in four years (all taken from her left breast) had made Syler’s chest -lopsided—she could feel her ribs through her altered breast—and choosing on-air clothes to mask the unevenness of her shape wasa daily reminder of what felt like a potential death sentence.
With her doctors, Syler made the decision to have a preventive double mastectomy, a choice she’d shared with her TV bosses and even planned to chronicle on camera for the show. But now, at 44 and on the cusp of major surgery, she was out of a job. “On December 22, I said good-bye to my viewers,” she says. “And on January 7, I said good-bye to my breasts.”
The upside to this time in Syler’s life was the publication of her first book, which hit stores in March 2007, just as she was getting back on her feet after the operation. Good Enough Mother is Syler’s paean to imperfection, a parenting self-help guide in which she encourages women to let go of unattainable ideals and take care of themselves so that they can better take care of their families. Years of waking up at 3:30 am for morning broadcasts, keeping a punishing work schedule, raising two kids and pretending the juggling act was easy had left Syler feeling “tired of society’s idea of what a good mother is,” she says. “Most moms are just trying to manage around the mad scramble of daily life and keep it all together. Yeah, we eat fast food sometimes. Not everything can be perfect all the time. And that’s OK. We can give up the unrelenting pressure to do everything exactly right all the time.”
Good Enough Mother succeeded modestly, helped by Syler’s appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show, a gig she secured while still a TV star. The producers had invited her to talk about her breast-cancer journey, and the conversation naturally led to a discussion of the book.
But in the two years that followed its publication, Syler’s attempts to find a new job on TV went nowhere. “I’d been a coanchor on one of just three network morning shows. There weren’t spots open on any of the others,” she says. “And most other programs assume that you won’t be interested or that they can’t afford you.” Syler’s agents asked her to consider vacation fill-in work for anchors, but those opportunities never materialized. She pressed them to pitch her for talk shows. That won’t work, they told her: You’re too closely identified with TV news to land those jobs.