Sunday, October 28, 2007

Behind the Covering is a Woman Like Me

First Lady, Laura Bush has just completed a trip to the middle east where her mission was to raise awareness of breast cancer among Arab women. We may be inundated with awareness campaigns here in America, but they all had a beginning and they have saved countless numbers of lives.

Former First Lady Betty Ford was the first to bring the words "breast cancer" out of a whisper and into the limelight. Because of her brave steps in revealing her illness to the country and the world, other women became aware that they, too, might one day get breast cancer. So word started to spread, the media covered it more openly. Mammograms were discussed as a routine procedure instead of just a test after the fact.

Former First Lady Nancy Reagan also developed breast cancer. This shed more light and more urgency on the problem. The next thing the nation knew a beloved television character added her struggle with breast cancer to the storyline of her hit show. When Miss Ellie of "Dallas" underwent her mastectomy, breast cancer was now in our living rooms.

Breast cancer was no longer being whispered. It was being talked about openly. Betty Rollins wrote "First, You Cry" and it became a national best seller. Nancy Brinker founded the Susan B. Komen Foundation in honor of her sister's courageous fight with breast cancer.

Today, breast cancer screening is the norm. Because of these brave women, it is not hidden in the shadows any longer. In years past, the treatment of breast cancer was brutal. Radical mastectomies were performed while women were undergoing biopsies. They would sign off on a procedure that might alter them profoundly before they even knew if they had cancer. While still under anesthesia, if the frozen tissue sample of the tumor came back from the pathology lab as positive, the surgeon would continue the surgery and perform the radical mastectomy. The way she knew if she had breast cancer was if she woke up to find she was missing a breast.

With the advent of the women's movement and the brave women who stepped forward with their own cancer battles, the face of breast cancer treatment changed forever. We are now partners in our care. We have a voice. We have choices. And we are living longer and surviving this disease because we are screened early.

Mrs. Bush wants this to be the case in the Arab world as well. She recently stated on television that she always felt that the coverings that Arab women wear were somehow closing themselves off to her and the outside world. She said that one woman she spoke with said to her, "I may be covered in black, but inside I am transparent."

Inside those coverings are women just like us. They need us to help them get breast cancer screening done early so they, too, have a fighting chance, just like us.

Most breast cancer that is detected in Arab women is only found when it is late stage and too late for any intervention that will prolong a woman's life. We know better. We know what a difference early detection makes.

There is one thing about this disease that will always hold true, it knows no boundaries. It strikes all colors, races, nationalities and income groups. The best and only chance we have right now is early detection. That should be available to every woman on the planet.

I applaud our First Lady for bringing this to the forefront. And I will find a way to support her cause because we are all sisters in this fight whether we live in Denver or Dubai.

No more secrets. No more shame. No more hiding. No Surrender. Go Laura!

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