Debbie Wasserman Schultz

Age: 51
Profession: United States Representative
Type of Breast Cancer: Estrogen Receptive
Year of Diagnosis: 2007
Number of years as a survivor: 11
Relationship to Susan G Komen: Race participant

In 2007, when I was 41 years old, I was doing a routine self-exam and found a lump, which turned out to be breast cancer.

My first thought was, will I be there for the milestones in my children’s lives: their Bar and Bat Mitzvahs; their high school graduations, their weddings? The good news is that I have danced the Hora at all three of my children’s Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, and moved my twins into their dorm rooms at the University of Florida.

For as much as I thought I knew as an advocate and legislator in the fight against breast cancer, there was much I didn’t know now that I was a patient.  I didn’t know that as an Ashkenazi Jew, I was ten times more likely to have a genetic mutation that drastically increases the likelihood of getting breast or ovarian cancer.  I didn’t know that carriers of the BRCA gene have up to an 85 percent lifetime chance of getting breast cancer and up to a 60 percent chance of getting ovarian cancer.  After my diagnosis and going through a genetic test, I found out that I do indeed have the BRCA2 mutation.

Empowered with this knowledge, I made the life-altering decision to undergo seven surgeries—including a double mastectomy and a prophylactic oophorectomy. I knew it gave me the best chance of being there for my children as they grew up. I was fortunate that I knew enough about my risks and got the help I needed, but I didn’t find my tumor through luck. I found it through knowledge and awareness.

During my treatment, I chose to keep my diagnosis a secret so that I could shield my young children from the fear that cancer brings and so I could keep my life on track and keep what little control you can have with a cancer diagnosis.

When I survived this, I was determined to translate my own experience into action. I wanted other young women to have better access to information and the tools to detect, fight and survive breast cancer. I also wanted all young women to know that they’re never alone in battling this disease, and that there are always resources available to help them.

That’s why, after 15-months of surgeries and treatment, I introduced the Education and Awareness Requires Learning Young Act, or EARLY Act. The EARLY Act became law as part of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, and was reauthorized in 2014. Under this law, the federal government is tasked with developing and implementing national education campaigns for the public and health care providers about the threat breast cancer poses to all young women. Since its enactment, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has spent nearly $37 million on the four areas specified in the bill: prevention research, public education, support grants, and health professional education.

Eleven years later, I’m proud to have used my platform to help ensure younger women and women of higher risk due to their ethnic and racial backgrounds have the tools and resources they need to make informed decisions about their breast health.

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