It’s not easy being Monica Hardin; it just looks that way. The striking, straight-talking, Emmy Award-winning anchor for WLKY has always been a perfectly-poised on-air presence, delivering news with a trademark dose of both empathy and credibility.
A 2001 Miss Kentucky and Communications major from University of Louisville, Monica not only looks the part of a television reporter, she has brains and education behind the polished appearance. The pageant queen and stellar student built a career on being the steady, consistent presence at the desk, on the story. And, in many ways, it has been the same way in her personal life: She has been a rock, a nurturer who takes care of others and who can take care of herself.
This role was not so much chosen as it was bestowed upon her. With a mother who went blind when she was six and a father who had chronic health problems, Monica became a caregiver by necessity at an early age. “I was a little adult,” she says. “When I was six years old, I’ll never forget it.... My mom had a stain on her shirt and I remember a family member telling me not to let her walk out of the house like that. I had to make sure she looked right. I was six years old and I was given that man- tle of leadership and responsibility and I accepted it. And I took it very seriously.”
She took it so seriously that, when her mother had to move into a nursing home twelve years ago because her father’s increasing health issues made it impossible for him to care for her, Monica made near-daily trips a part of her routine, even when her daughters, Faith, 7 and Eden, 4 came along. “I would paint her nails and we made a Halloween costume together,” she says. “She hated being there, but she never complained.” And when her mother was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer, Monica was her supporter who was there with her for her appointments, for her chemo treatments and surgery. “I was there when she took her last breath,” she says. “That was two years ago and I’m still figuring out who I am without her.”
Who Monica Hardin is now is not who she was a year or even six months ago. In this last year, she has lived through a divorce, a cancer diagnosis, a bilateral mastectomy, a second surgery (when her margins weren’t clear) and a hiatus from the job she loves. “I’m calling myself a re- covering perfectionist,” she says from the apartment she now shares with her father and her two little girls. “I’ve learned how to let go of that and it’s not easy. And I’ve realized that because I’ve hit my rock bottom. When you can’t give yourself a shower or go to the bathroom unassisted and you’re independent and the one who does everything for everyone else, that’s your rock bottom.”
She is in a place that she didn’t see coming. With a strong family history (she lost her mother and both grandmothers to breast cancer), she had the genetic test for breast cancer in 2017. “But it came back negative,” she says. It was in a well visit to her mid-wife this spring that her cancer journey began. “She was examining my left breast and she kept going back over it and she said, ‘This does not feel right to me,’” says Monica. A diagnostic mammo- gram was ordered, then a biopsy and then there was the phone call.
“It was June 20 and I’m driving my girls to summer day camp and I see the doctor calling,” she says. “I’d been waiting for five days, so I wasn’t going to not answer.... And she says, ‘Can you talk?’ And, of course I can talk because I don’t need to wait for this news any longer. And she says, ‘Well, I’m sorry to tell you, it’s breast cancer.’ So that’s all you hear. And she says, ‘The good news is that we caught it early,’ but you don’t hear that. She’s telling me about what kind it is and I’m driving, and my children are in the back and they’re starting to bicker. She says, ‘Someone is going to call you, your nurse advocate.’ So, I get off the phone and I put on my Hamilton soundtrack so we’re jamming before they go to camp because I need them to have an upbeat moment as sisters.
“We pull up to the school and I normally wouldn’t get out, but I got out and I took a selfie with me and my girls, because it was no more than seven minutes after I got the phone call. And I wanted to make sure that I put my face on. And I smiled, and I took that picture and I turned my back and I broke down. They walk into the school and I’m walking back to my van and that’s the first time I was like, ‘Oh my god. This is what it is.’ Because I’m the strong one. I’m the only who always looks happy. I’m the one who wakes everybody up in the morning on TV and is always there. I was like, ‘Oh my god. This is real.’”
The reality that has unfolded since that fateful phone call has been tough, but there have been silver linings. “This happens all of a sudden and right away, there are these decisions that you have to make and so much is happening and so much is coming towards you,” she says. She swears that the nurse advocate, who schedules all of her appointments with her many doctors, has been a lifesaver. As have her friends. “I have not gone to a single doctor’s appointment by myself,” she says. “My best friend has been in charge of scheduling everything else. And my best friend at work started fundraising for me—something I hadn’t even thought about. After this happened, I suddenly had three team leaders and t-shirts were made and everyone was rallying around me.”
“This happens all of a sudden and right away, there are these decisions that you have to make and so much is happening and so much is coming towards you."
While her colleagues, friends and family organized an incredible support system behind the scenes, Monica knew that she wanted to bring her television “framily” (her loyal viewers) into the circle too. “I immediately started thinking about how I was going to share this with them,” she says. “They have been with me for years. They’ve seen me go through all kinds of changes in my life.” They were going to see this too. Monica made the bold decision to share the news on the air, on her birthday, on July 16—three days before her surgery.
The outpouring of support she has received has been both humbling and heartwarming. “There has been so much love,” she says. “There has been so much sharing and positivity. That is the silver lining.”
While she leans on her close-knit team and spends time with her daughters, she has continued to keep readers up to date on each development through her
Facebook page. She has also asked high school friend and photographer, Kelly Dillman, to capture her journey through very real, very raw photos, many of which she posts on line. “It is shocking to me that in a city of this size there isn’t anyone who captures women’s cancer journeys,” she says. “I wanted to document this. It’s a place to put my focus and my energy.”
Monica is also putting her energy into healing both body and mind. “I’ve been focusing on letting go of perfectionism. And allowing myself to just be still. To just zone out and breathe,” she says. “But the cool thing is that I’ve got these kids and they help. There was this box I wanted to throw out the other day and now they’ve made a car out of it. How joyful, how cool is it to look over and see that car?” She’s focusing on silver linings. “New breasts; I’m happy about that,” she says. “And I’ve made it. I feel like, at this point in my life, there’s not much I can’t make it through. All these things have happened and I’m still here.”