Joan Lunden on Becoming a Breast Cancer Awareness Advocate: 'I Want to Become a Beacon For Women'

"We've lost too many women," Lunden tells PEOPLE

Photo: Getty

Now that she’s on the other side of her grueling nine-month breast cancer treatment, Joan Lunden is focused on using her story to empower women to take control of their health.

“I want to be a beacon of hope to women not to be afraid to do their own self-exam,” Lunden told PEOPLE at the Breast Cancer Research Foundation luncheon Thursday in New York. “Not to be afraid to go to a doctor if they think something isn’t right, and not to be afraid to insist that you get that mammogram or that ultrasound if you need it.”

The former Good Morning America co-host added, “We are our own best health advocate.”

In June 2014, Lunden announced she had been diagnosed with stage 2 triple negative breast cancer. Her treatment included 16 rounds of chemotherapy, six weeks of radiation and a lumpectomy. She admitted that the “aggressive chemo treatment” did take a toll on her.

In September, Lunden, 65, told PEOPLE that she was finally starting to “feel whole again.” Since then, the Had I Known author has completed a seven-week speaking tour that included stops in 14 states for 21 speeches.

“I have felt great,” Lunden said. “I’ve happily been able to keep up with it.”

Last week, the American Cancer Society released its recommendations for early breast cancer detection, which stated that that women should only start getting yearly mammograms once they turn 45 and women between the ages of 40 and 44 have the “choice” to start earlier. Lunden firmly disagrees with this assessment.

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“I think they should be screened earlier rather than later because I hear from women who are 40 and 41 and 42 everyday who are being diagnosed with breast cancer,” Lunden said. “What would happen to them if we just didn’t even look until 45? We would probably lose them. We can’t lose anymore women.”

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