It’s rare that one person, overnight, can change the lives of millions of living women, and girls yet unborn, but the “Betty Ford Blip” did just that! On September 28, 1974, First Lady Betty Ford had a radical mastectomy for breast cancer.
Her operation wasn’t that unusual. What was remarkable was the press conference her doctors held at the White House hours after the surgery. They spoke candidly of how the lump was detected during a mammogram seven months after her regular doctor’s check-up. (She only went for the mammogram to support a friend having one.) The doctors discussed in detail the procedure and what was involved. They emphasized that early detection gave Betty an excellent chance for a full recovery.
The great news is not only did she make a full recovery, the cancer never reappeared. She went on to co-found the Betty Ford Center, and lived until 2011. She was truly a vibrant woman for her entire life.
Many of us remember when this historic event took place. Suddenly, breast cancer was no longer a whispered-about “woman’s disease.” Immediately it entered the mainstream of illnesses discussed without stigma, embarrassment, or shame.
Less than a week after the surgery, a photographer caught her, still in the hospital, throwing a football to her husband, President Jerry Ford. That picture eased the fears of women facing the same surgery. For months afterward, women jammed phonelines at doctors’ offices and organizations such as the American Cancer Society asking questions and wanting an appointment for an exam, ASAP.
Cancer researchers even labeled this phenomenon; it’s known as the “Betty Ford Blip.”
Betty Ford went on to speak openly and often about her cancer and the gift of that early detection mammogram. At the time of her surgery, she was one of ninety thousand women per year diagnosed with breast cancer. More than one-third of those women died.
In her book, Lisa McCubbin, author of Betty Ford: First Lady, Women’s Advocate, Survivor, Trailblazer, includes a reminiscence of Betty’s:
“Even before I was able to get up, I lay in bed and watched television and saw on the news lines of women queued up to go in for breast examinations because of what had happened to me.”Betty Ford
Today, we take mammograms for granted as something we must do routinely, and without fail. Younger generations accept the importance of these exams without knowing how one courageous woman, nearly five decades ago, spoke the unspeakable and gave life and hope back to countless grandmothers, mothers, and daughters.
I love reading history because it often recognizes and applauds ordinary people who performed extraordinary acts of selflessness for the betterment of us all. Betty Ford was such a person, many times over.
Thank you, Mrs. Ford.
Until next time… Be vibrant!
Image: David Hume Kennerly , Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons