Betty Ford died this past week. She was an under rated First Lady in my opinion. Those of us in the breast cancer community have a very soft spot for Betty Ford. In 1974 when at age 56, she openly talked about her breast cancer it was very controversial. From the White House, discussion about the First Lady’s health made the evening news. What was new was not her cancer or her treatments but that it was openly discussed! Breast cancer was usually spoken in whispers and often not directly to the patient but to her husband.
The director of the Susan Komen for the Cure here in Oregon is a 35 year breast cancer survivor. She was diagnosed after the birth of her child but her husband was told her diagnosis first. This was after Betty Ford, yet her doctor thought she was too excitable of a person to understand her disease state!
Betty Ford was open about her disease and her course of treatment, a mastectomy. In 1974, breast conservation was not a viable option. A radical mastectomy was standard surgical protocol. With her news and frankness and newspaper pictures, Betty Ford helped to start American women breast cancer awareness.
Betty Ford was a pioneer in alcohol and drug additions also. She was an advocate for mental health. One of my favorite quotes from Betty Ford showing her candid and frankness was when asked about her husband’s political career she answered “I didn’t think he could win”.
Betty Ford started the awareness of breast cancer by being vocal. The Susan Komen foundation, http://www.komen.org/ started a few years later fueling the momentum for breast cancer awareness.
In the 37 years since Betty Ford told the world she had breast cancer, much has changed for the better in the diagnosis and treatments of the disease. The legacy also that Betty Ford leaves is she lived to be 93 and did not die of breast cancer!