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Rene Syler: From anchor to author with a pause for major surgery

Rene Syler returns to D-FW with her new book in hands. Photo: Ed Bark

Rene Syler used to enjoy interviewing the weekly Survivor castoffs during her four years on CBS' The Early Show.

Then the network abruptly cast her off late last year, just a few weeks before she had her breasts removed in a procedure that goes down in the medical books as a bilateral prophylactic mastectomy.

The penultimate chapter in her new book, Good Enough Mother, recounts these travails in 11 pages titled "double whammy, or how to lose your breasts and your job in five short weeks." You might say she has a sense of humor. And that at age 44, she's a survivor.

"I feel amazing," Syler says during a promotional stop in Dallas, where she spent 11 years anchoring at both Belo8 (1992-'97) and CBS11 (1997-2002). "It's not just physically I feel better, but my head is better. I feel lighter. That's such a crazy way to describe it, but that's the only way I can think of it. I feel like a weight has been lifted, and life is grand and wonderful."

Her Jan. 9 surgery and a followup procedure in early March were alternatives to a series of painful biopsies that became necessary when Syler was diagnosed as a high-risk patient whose parents both have had breast cancer. The procedures also were increasingly disfiguring. So Syler says she asked herself, "How many more of these can I go through where they go in and keep pulling out breast tissue that's the size of a golf ball?"

Finally, the "futility of it all" convinced her she was better off without breasts and with "nipple-sparing" implants. Her candor in this regard is typical but never off-putting. And Syler's book, as you might judge from its cover and its title, is mainly about mommying without being a contemporary mommie dearest. It's dedicated to "Casey and Cole, the treasures of my heart."

Daughter Casey, 10, is the low-maintenance angelic one. Son Cole, 8, is the one who provides a wealth of material for the first-time author.

"That boy, if he had been the first, he'd have been the only one," Syler says. "Because he is such a handful."

She was pregnant with him while still anchoring at CBS11. At the six-month mark, Syler remembers standing on a desk in the newsroom and sermonizing on the differences between South Dallas and Oak Cliff.

"I was just ranting and raving. I'm sure that's part of the reason that boy is the way he is. Because I was a crazy woman when I was pregnant with him."

Syler's already promoted her book on Oprah and Good Morning America, and on Friday (April 13) at 7:30 p.m. she'll be signing copies at Barnes & Noble Booksellers, 7700 W. Northwest Hwy. across from the North Park shopping center.

An April 17th guest host stint on The View also should help sales. By the way, the show still has a vacancy.

"I don't look at it as an audition. Not at all," Syler contends. "It look at it as I'm going in for one day just like all these other guests hosts have done."

"But if asked, you would serve," her interviewer interjects.

"Sure," she says, laughing. "Yes, if asked I would serve."

One of her old D-FW employers, CBS11, also needs a booster shot. The station recently hired former Belo8 veteran Scott Sams to step in as half of the 5 to 7 a.m. anchor team. His deskmate, Shannon Hori, will be leaving the station in July after her three-year contract expires.

"I haven't heard from anybody there," says Syler, who still lives in New York with husband Buff Parham, whom she married while at Belo8. "And it's the morning! I mean, I'm just getting used to sleeping again. That's probably why I'm feeling so great."

She did some co-anchoring with Sams while both were at Belo8. It wasn't a career highlight.

"At the time we had some rough patches there," Syler says of their professional relationship. She did send him a congratulatory email, though, when CBS11 signed him up.

Last call at CBS and glamming it up at a recent awards show.

Her book tour originally didn't include a stop at her old network's Early Show, where she said goodbye on Dec. 22 after being told the show was going in the dreaded "new direction."

"My intention was not to go back, but you know what? Everybody moves on," Syler says. So when Early Show bookers called after her GMA appearance, she decided to stop by and make the best of it. On Monday, her best friend on the show, Harry Smith, did the book chat.

"I was good for me to be able to show viewers that I was OK," she says.

Syler has never asked for the specifics on why Early Show let her go. In Good Enough Mother, she quotes CBS News president Sean McManus as saying, "This is the part of the job I hate . . . We're going to go in a different direction."

McManus then adds, "It's really hard for me to sit here and tell you this."

To which Syler says she rejoined, "Not as hard as it is for me to sit here and listen to you tell it."

One of her former colleagues, who's still co-anchoring Early Show, is Julie Chen, wife of CBS president and CEO Leslie Moonves. This goes unmentioned in her book and during our interview (at least for publication). But draw your own conclusions as to who's sitting pretty.

"In that moment you're not thinking correctly," Syler says of the day she was shown the door. "So I didn't even challenge them. I guess the direction they wanted to go in was to add a news reader. So they had to subtract someone.

"It is what it is. In this business you get paid to roll with the punches. People don't remember you for how you came into a job as much as they do for how you went out. So it's really important for me to maintain a sense of dignity and class and grace about a situation that was very, very painful."

Her ongoing book tour and efforts to turn Good Enough Mother into a prime-time sitcom have kept her bouncy and bright. CBS passed on the idea last year, but a new effort is being made in partnership with Without a Trace star Anthony LaPaglia's Last Straw production company.

"I'm very optimistic about the book and about my future, even though I don't know what that holds," Syler says. "I just feel like the sun is shining brightly."