What We Can Do to Honor Betty Ford and Move Beyond Awareness. Hint: It’ll Take an Army

I’ve been thinking about Betty Ford for over a week now, since she died at age 93 on July 8th.  The news was replete with her accomplishments, her candor and her activism.  She found her breast cancer just seven weeks after her husband, Gerald Ford, took the oath of office.  Her decision to publicly discuss her cancer made her a true activist in the area of breast cancer awareness.

Her decision was made immediately and for the good of the country.  “There had been so much cover-up during Watergate that we wanted to be sure there would be no cover-up in the Ford administration,” she told Gloria Steinem in a 1984 interview. “So rather than continue this traditional silence about breast cancer, we felt we had to be very public.”

It couldn’t have been easy to be so open, not during a time when others had been silent. “I felt very self-conscious,” she said later, recalling the aftermath of the surgery. “The first time I walked down those stairs for a formal reception and everyone was waiting for us to arrive, I knew they were saying, ‘Which breast did she say it was?’ “

Betty Ford put a public face on breast cancer and made awareness possible.  Millions of women began going for mammograms, doing self-exams and thanking her for saving their lives.  I am one of those women.  It is because of yearly mammograms that my cancer was found at the earliest of stages.  That discovery possibly saved me from chemotherapy, radiation and possibly saved my life.

For all of the awareness that brought me to the breast center that day in September 2008, I am grateful to Betty Ford and all of the many other women who came after her to work for awareness.  I believe in the necessity of awareness and will always credit it for making my cancer manageable.

I must question, however, why, despite today’s prevalence of awareness, it is still at the forefront of breast cancer advocacy.  Betty Ford gave up her medical privacy to bring us awareness.  I believe she accomplished her goal.  What we need to focus on today is finding a way to prevent breast cancer in the first place.  That’s why I support the Love/Avon Army of Women (AOW), whose revolutionary initiative has two key goals:

  • To recruit one million healthy women of every age and ethnicity, including breast cancer survivors and women at high-risk for the disease, to partner with breast cancer researchers and directly participate in the research that will eradicate breast cancer once and for all.
  • To challenge the scientific community to expand its current focus to include breast cancer prevention research conducted on healthy women.

I join many, many women out there who are pink ribbon weary.  I am painfully aware.  Now I want to be actively involved in finding a solution.  To that end, I signed up with AOW, which is actively recruiting one million men and women of all ages and ethnicities, including breast cancer survivors and those who have never had breast cancer.  By signing up, my name was added to a database so I can be contacted with information about prevention based research studies.

There is no cost to join the database and participation in any of the studies is completely voluntary.  I hope I hear someday that there is a research project for which I qualify.  I want to do all I can so that my daughter, and my son, will not have to go through what I went through,  I want to do all I can to give them both a cancer-free fate.

If you want to join me, please go to the AOW website and sign up.  You’ll be doing your part to eradicate this disease and honoring women like Betty Ford, who, like you, are willing to step up and be part of the solution.If you’re really feeling empowered, go a little further and send the “invite a friend” link to your family and friends.  Please let me know that you’ve joined me –  I’d really like to do this together.


Survival > existence,
Image courtesy of Andrew McFarlane

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