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How Breast Cancer Came Out Of The Closet

By HERWriter
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The first woman to go public about her breasts was First Lady Betty Ford. Before her audacious statement in 1974, when she announced to the world that - not only did she have breast cancer, but she was having a mastectomy - women never spoke about such private things in proper circles. And certainly never to the media. Her bold openness shocked the nation and changed forever the language women use about their bodies and their health.

Then in 1982, a woman in Iowa named Nancy Brinker kept a promise to her dying sister Susan by launching the Susan G. Komen Foundation. She knew she wanted to stop the unnecessary deaths from breast cancer but first she needed to give women hope. So she built a network of everyday women from every town U.S.A, supporting each other on a frightening and often fatal journey. Some 27 years later, Nancy Brinker is coming closer to her dream of eradicating breast cancer. The Race for the Cure, the largest grassroots movement in women’s health, has changed America and is on its way to changing the world.

When Susan Komen was diagnosed in the early eighties, the five-year survival rate for women whose cancer was still confined to the breast was just 74%. Susan was one in four that died. Today, this group lives 98% of the time. That success in survivability is directly attributable to the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

The movement changed more than medicine. It changed our culture. Women whose bodies are altered by cancer are now seen as bold and beautiful. Women speak of other women - complete strangers - as “sisters” at rallies in every community across the country. Women are passionate, articulate advocates in political and public venues demanding better medicine and getting it. Pink ribbons have become an international icon, raising awareness and funds through product purchases. And, women, as well as many enlightened men, talk openly and intelligently about breast health in any and every circle, without the least hint of social stigma.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

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Thank you, Pat, for sharing a little of the history about Betty Ford. She changed more than breast cancer, knocking down barriers for women and fighting for our rights. I'm glad that young women will never know the shame and loneliness women felt in those days when they were diagnosed, as though they were somehow responsible for the disease. As you said, Never again.

October 1, 2009 - 10:24pm
Expert HERWriter Guide Blogger

Annette- Thank you for including Betty Ford's story in your article. I had the privilege of working with her as a reporter in her adopted home town of Grand Rapids, Michigan when she was diagnosed and had her mastectomy. It was typical of her - an outspoken, honest and forthright woman who saw no reason to not discuss her breast cancer publicly. It may be hard for younger women to believe, but breast cancer just wasn't discussed openly at that time, and many women died from lack of information about symptoms and treatment options. When the First Lady went public she broke many barriers for other women that have continued to come down ever since. It's also wonderful to see her daughter Susan serving as the spokesperson for this year's National Breast Cancer Awareness Month observation. Let's never let breast cancer information go silent again!

October 1, 2009 - 5:52pm

Great article, Annette. A great reminder that from small seeds grow large and bountiful trees . . . we need to plant more seeds!

October 1, 2009 - 3:34pm

Thank you, thank you. (twice)

October 1, 2009 - 2:01pm

Great article Annette...you are inspiring as well as empowHering!

October 1, 2009 - 1:42pm

Great article Annette...you are inspiring as well as empowHering! Ooops! Did I hit send trwice?

October 1, 2009 - 1:44pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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