Nearly 90 percent of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer today will survive their disease at least five years, up from 63 percent in the early 1960s. Currently there are about 2.5 million breast cancer survivors in the United States. I am one of them, and have been for more than 20 years.
Why did so many women die from breast cancer in the early 1960's? One reason is that the disease wasn't out in the open, there was little information publicly available about the symptoms, and women often only sought medical care after the disease was in an advanced stage.
The need for open and honest information about breast cancer didn't really become apparent on a large scale until the 1970's. Shortly after her husband took office, First Lady Betty Ford had a mastectomy - on September 28, 1974. She told Time magazine, "When other women have this same operation, it doesn't make any headlines. But the fact that I was the wife of the President put it in headlines and brought before the public this particular experience I was going through. It made a lot of women realize that it could happen to them. I'm sure I've saved at least one person—maybe more." Public awareness of breast cancer was further amplified a short time later when Happy Rockefeller, the wife of vice president Nelson Rockefeller, also underwent a mastectomy.
By speaking out, Betty Ford helped save many lives and led the way for others to form organizations that provide educational information, support breast cancer patients and fund medical research. She inspired hospitals and other patient care providers that had never had public education programs about breast cancer to make the decision to build and support them.
I plan to spend the month of October, National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, personally speaking to many people about the need for regular screenings and being aware of breast cancer symptoms and support needs. If you also support the need for breast cancer education I hope you will speak out too. Together our voices can really make a difference in the lives of women.
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