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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

To be their own voice: Early detection of breast cancer

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz held a press conference yesterday in a small dining room at the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, DC to announce legislation for a national campaign to educate young women and their doctors on the need to start early on breast cancer detection. Her bill, the EARLY Act ("Education and Awareness Requires Learning Young"), would provide $9 million annually. She says it "would encourage young women to be their own voice – to speak up for themselves and know when they need to go to their doctor. The EARLY Act will teach both young women and medical professionals alike about risk factors, warning signs of breast cancer and predictive tools such as genetic testing that can help women make informed decisions about their health."

The glamorous 42-year-old congresswoman had discovered a breast lump through self-examination in December 2007. Since then, she has undergone seven major surgeries. She learned that her Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry places her at greater risk for the cancer to spread, so she chose to have a double mastectomy, and the removal of her ovaries.

She had kept the illness private during her re-election campaign, not wanting the illness to "define" her.

After her press conference, she had another important message to convey: "I'm healthy, and I'm through it."

She had to make some very tough choices. Maybe her most heroic choice was to go public and to sponsor legislation to protect other young women. That's why she's a patient advocate hero.

Advice: Like her, help others who face the difficult healthcare choices that you've had to confront.

Read another story of a vigorous and imaginative breast cancer survivor. Thanks to Richard Leiby for the source story in today's Washington Post.

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