2017 Pittsburgher of the Year: Kelly Frey
No one would blame the veteran WTAE anchor if she took time off while undergoing intensive breast cancer treatment. Instead, she chose to use humor and grace to educate and inspire others, all while in the public eye.
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A Facebook Live post where she documented shaving her head while sipping champagne after her hair began to fall out following chemo treatments got millions of views. Frey also turned the camera on herself as she got ready for work one day, allowing herself to be seen with no makeup, no eyelashes, no eyebrows and no wig.
The wig, which looks remarkably like Frey’s own hair, is something the news anchor has worn since her hair began to fall out. But she rarely wears the blond hairpiece outside of work, opting instead for a pink ballcap. Despite encouragement from viewers who told her they’d love to see her bald on the air, Frey says she never wanted her appearance to distract from the news.
“I wanted continuity and normalcy, so if you didn’t know I was going through breast cancer, you wouldn’t even know anything,” she says. “You weren’t looking at me as Kelly, the anchor with breast cancer. Or there’s Kelly, cancer patient. It’s just Kelly, and that’s what I wanted on the air, no matter what — and so I could feel as normal as possible too.”
A sense of normalcy is another reason Frey was determined to remain on the job, even as she has battled debilitating nausea, headaches and other side effects from chemo treatments. For her, work is the time to momentarily forget about her diagnosis, to be around other adults and to focus on the news. To date, she only has missed a handful of work days.
“Just getting up, getting dressed, no matter how bad I felt in the morning, getting a cup of coffee, getting that shower, putting my makeup on and going in to work, even on the worst days, always makes me feel better,” she says. “If I didn’t have that, I probably would have laid around in bed more. I probably might not have been as upbeat.”
Peggie Kunicki, WTAE assignment editor and a close friend who joined the station at the same time as Frey more than 17 years ago, says it’s rare to see the news anchor come into the newsroom without a smile on her face.
“Some days the pep’s not quite in her step, but you wouldn’t know that from watching her on TV at all,” Kunicki says. “She has always been genuine, kind and sweet. Everyone always asks me, ‘What’s Kelly really like? Does she treat others the way she treats people on TV?’ I tell them, ‘She’s even better.’”