"The really good news is that they caught it early and they treat it very aggressively," Norah O'Donnell tells PEOPLE

By Brittany King
March 29, 2017 09:00 AM
Michele Crowe/CBS

Norah O’Donnell is opening up about recently being diagnosed with skin cancer.

When the 43-year-old CBS morning anchor went in for a routine checkup with her dermatologist the week before Thanksgiving, she wasn’t expecting to find out that she had melanoma in situ.

“I had these yearly skin checks and I had gone two years ago to [my dermatologist] Dr. Elizabeth Hale. At the time, I checked some things and everything was fine,” she tells PEOPLE exclusively.

Two years later, O’Donnell realized she was long overdue for checkup.

During her appointment, O’Donnell’s doctor identified two spots on her back that she wanted to take a deeper look at. She said that she’d send them out for biopsy and be in touch after Thanksgiving.

“My family and I were in Washington, D.C., for the holiday when I received an urgent email from Dr. Hale,” she recalls. “She said that the biopsy came back and that she wanted to speak with me immediately.’ “

It was then that the journalist found out she had melanoma on her upper left back.

“I was like, ‘Oh, my god,’ ” O’Donnell admits. “But [the doctor] said, ‘It’s 100 percent curable. The good news is we caught it early, but as soon as you can I want to see you and we got to take it out with a pretty significant incision. It will be deep and will be stitches.’ So the really good news is that they caught it early and they treat it very aggressively. They make a big cut to make sure there’s nothing else around it and not becoming invasive.”

“I went back in the beginning of January and had the incision done,” she continues. “It was three layers of stitches — like 20 in all. It was a pretty big cut and the good news is the margins were clear. It’s scary. It’s the first time, medically, that something happens to you that scares you.”

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Being told she had skin cancer took a toll on the newscaster mentally and emotionally.

“It was really a wake up call to me. My husband was very concerned. My kids were really worried. My 9-year-old son said to me, ‘Well, is there any chance you can die from this surgery?’ And I was like, ‘No. No. No,’ ” admits O’Donnell. “Not being able to workout for six weeks was one of the hardest things. I was distraught. It also made me realize how much exercise is tied to mental health. I really was down in the dumps over the diagnoses and then not being able to exercise had a big affect on my mood.”

John Paul Filo/CBS

After her diagnosis, O’Donnell began researching this type of melanoma.

“I found out that a lot of this melanoma in particular is caused by UVA rays and tanning salons,” she says. “I grew up in San Antonio, Texas. I ran track, I was a cheerleader and I went to a tanning salon. That was in the days before spray tans. Now, I wear 50 or 70, I use spray tan or self-tanner. But that wasn’t around when I was 20 years old.”

Following her diagnoses, O’Donnell stresses that fact that everyone should be taking preventative care more seriously.

“I think getting skin checks isn’t at the top of everybody’s list. We delay our preventive care,” she says, adding that melanoma is on the rise. “Preventative care is so important in catching this stuff early. I have to go back every four months now. I just went back and they took off two more things, including a spot underneath the scar. They both came back totally benign, but I’m under close surveillance.”