Monday, March 23, 2009

Famous Survivors...Part Two in Series Debbie Wasserman Schultz- Kudos!

Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz battled a breast cancer diagnosis, the discovery of the BRCA2 gene, bilateral mastectomy, oophrectomy and continued her duties representing the people of Broward County in 2007.

Now, she is addressing the Hill about how vital it is for YOUNG WOMEN to be screened early.

The No Surrender Breast Cancer Foundation has been a strong advocate for base line mammograms to be mandated at age 35 not age 40 as the American Cancer Society Guidelines dictate. We support Congresswoman Wasserman Shultz's proposal.

Story:

Broward U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz reveals cancer battle

After telling The Miami Herald that she had successfully fought breast cancer, Debbie Wasserman Schultz vowed to warn younger women about the risks.

When Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz steps to the lectern at the Capitol on Monday to push for greater awareness of breast cancer risks in younger women, she'll be speaking from experience.

The Broward County Democrat and mother of three told The Miami Herald on Saturday that she successfully battled breast cancer for the past year and is going public with her story in the hope of alerting young women to its prevalence. She'll introduce legislation Monday that calls for a national education campaign targeting women between 15 and 39.

'I wanted to be able to not just stand up and say, `I'm a breast cancer survivor.' . . . I wanted to find a gap and try to fill it,'' said Wasserman Schultz, 42.

In the past year, she underwent seven major surgeries, including a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery, while balancing motherhood, Congress and her roles as a chief fundraiser for House Democrats and a political surrogate, first for Hillary Clinton and then for Barack Obama.

''I had a lot going on last year,'' she said with a laugh, sitting in the living room of the Capitol Hill town house she shares with two other members of Congress when she's in Washington. ``I'm a very focused, methodical person, and I wasn't going to let this beat me. I wasn't going to let it interfere with my life.''

She'll share her experience on national television Monday morning on ABC's Good Morning America with anchor Robin Roberts, who had breast cancer in 2007.

''What I realized through the year is, I thought I knew a lot about breast cancer, but I really didn't, and most young women don't,'' Wasserman Schultz said.

DETECTION DIFFICULT

Breast cancer in younger women can be particularly aggressive, but it can be more difficult to detect because of breast density. And physicians, Wasserman Schultz said, can be slow to recognize the threat to younger women.

''Young women go skipping along through their life, thinking they're invincible, not worrying about breast cancer because they think of it as an older woman's disease,'' Wasserman Schultz said, noting that the focus is often on a woman's first mammogram, typically at 40.

The death rate from breast cancer has declined for older women, but remains stable for younger women because they are often diagnosed at a later stage, she said.

''It just pains me to know that younger women, because they don't know and because they're blown off by physicians many times, and because they squeeze their eyes shut and hope that it's nothing, that their death rate is much higher,'' she said.

Her bill calls for a national education campaign, aimed at informing young women about the risks and encouraging them to conduct routine self-exams.

Wasserman Schultz discovered a breast lump through a self-exam, two months after her first mammogram at 40. Although the cancer was detected at an early stage, she also learned that as an Ashkenazi Jew of Eastern European descent, she was at greater risk of carrying a gene mutation that makes Ashkenazi Jews predisposed to breast cancer and recurrance. She tested positive for this BRCA2 gene mutation, prompting her to have both breasts removed.

She was also at higher risk of ovarian cancer and had her ovaries removed -- the day after Election Day. Her final surgery was in December.

Because the cancer was caught so early, she didn't need chemotherapy or radiation but will take the cancer drug tamoxifen for five years.

She said she decided to keep her cancer private, concerned mostly that her young children (then 8-year-old twins and a 4-year-old daughter) would worry, particularly with a mother who was also constantly on the go. They knew she was undergoing surgery, but she didn't tell them the cause.

'I knew from my doctors that if I went through their recommended course of treatment that I would get through it and I'd be fine, that I could come out the other side and confidently tell my children, `Mommy's fine,' '' she said.

She scheduled her treatment at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., during congressional recesses so she wouldn't miss votes in Congress.

THIRD TERM IN HOUSE

Wasserman Schultz is one of the most influential Democratic House members from Florida. She was easily reelected to her third term in November and is vice chair of the Democratic National Committee.

She said that keeping her illness to a small circle of family members and friends allowed her to ''maintain control'' over a situation that was otherwise out of control.

''I didn't want it to define me,'' she said. 'I didn't want when you wrote a story about me, I would become `Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who is battling breast cancer.' I didn't want that to be my name because I knew I was going to be fine.''

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