If you have been following the reports of Betty Ford's death, you have learned or been reminded about how she broke the social taboo for speaking about breast cancer. In 1974, breast cancer still wasn't talked about in public. When I was growing up, sometimes I heard hushed discussions about one of my mother's friends who had a "female" problem, but breast cancer simply wasn't discussed.
Sure there were some feminists who were starting to use words like "breast" and "vagina" in health books like Our Bodies Ourselves first published in 1973. But for a first lady of an older generation to announce publicly that she had breast cancer and to allow herself to be photographed shortly after her mastectomy were unheard of.
Who knows how many women's lives were saved because the publicity surrounding Mrs. Ford's cancer sent them to the doctor? The breakthrough she made led to the possibility of public awareness campaigns and more lives saved. Now in my school, sixth graders think nothing of organizing a bake sale to help breast cancer charities. Middle school children using the word "breast" out loud in public! Not something that happened when I was growing up!
So today, I thank Betty Ford for what she did for breast cancer awareness.
I would also like to thank her for helping me achieve a personal breakthrough. Her death at age 93 makes me believe that I might live to be an old lady. My father died at age 93. My mother is still going strong at 90. All four of my grandparents lived to be old for people born in the 1800's. However, since my cancer diagnosis, I haven't seen myself turning 93. I have never been able to picture myself more than about five years ahead. This morning when I heard the news, suddenly I could see it. If Betty Ford could do it, why not me?
To all of you who have recently been diagnosed with breast cancer or who are worrying because you believe that lump equals death, think about Betty Ford. To those of you who have finished treatment but who cannot rid yourself of the dread that it might come back, look at her life. Picture yourself at age 93. You have overcome breast cancer. You have accomplished your life's goals. If Betty Ford could do it, why not you?
Published On: July 09, 2011