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Remembering Betty Ford, My Mom and All the Others

When I heard the news recently that Betty Ford had passed away, the first thought that came into my mind was, I wonder if she passed away from breast cancer.

Recurrence is never far from my mind; recurrence for me or anyone else for that matter, even Betty Ford.

After learning she did not, and that in fact, she had lived to be 93 years old, I thought wow, Betty Ford made it! Somewhere inside of me, I gave out a cheer for her. Cancer didn’t  “get her!”

I don’t think I was the only one who did that.

I was still a teenager when Betty Ford was diagnosed in 1974. Like most teenagers, I didn’t give her diagnosis a whole lot of thought. Breast cancer did not exist in my world yet. Never in a million years did I think my mom would get breast cancer and I certainly never thought I would.

In 1974, breast cancer wasn’t talked about openly like it is today. Although I do think there is still a stigma to cancer, it’s nothing like it once was.

Even back then at my young age, I do remember that is was considered quite brave of Betty Ford to be so open about her diagnosis and radical mastectomy. As the wife of the President of the United States, she had two very distinctly different options to choose from, keeping quiet or speaking out. She chose the latter.

I wonder if she gave serious thought to her other option.

Betty Ford was a bit outspoken for her time about many things, not just cancer. I’m sure her more liberal viewpoints on things like the Equal Rights Amendment and abortion were problematic for some in her husband’s more conservative political circle. People were never entirely sure what she might say at events and I imagine that made some people more than a bit nervous at times.

I liked that about her. I think a lot of people did, especially women.

Later on when Betty Ford admitted to having a substance abuse problem with drugs and alcohol, she came forward and shared with the public. Again, she would not have had to.

I wonder how cable news channels would treat her if she was making these revelations today.

The passing of Betty Ford saddens me, of course, because we have lost another important figure from history and an important role model for many. In my opinion, another reason for somber reflection is that some things haven’t changed all that much since 1974. 

In 1975, statistics said a woman had a 1 out of 11 chance of developing breast cancer. Today that statistic is generally said to be 1 out of 8.

What kind of progress is this?

In the United States roughly 40,000 women (and men) still die every year from breast cancer; another statistic that hasn’t changed all that much over the years.

Ironically, President Nixon declared war on cancer even before Betty Ford’s diagnosis.

Again, where is the progress and when are we going to win this war?

The passing of Betty Ford saddens me, but also makes me grateful and glad that women like her chose to speak out about their disease without fear of repercussion. Speaking out is still sometimes bold, but in the seventies, it was even more so.

My mother was not afraid of speaking out either and after her cancer diagnosis she spoke about breast cancer at every available opportunity. In her own way, whe was a lot like Betty Ford. She was also on a mission to share about breast cancer; all of it. And just like Betty Ford, she too, was a bit of a feminist.

Women with breast cancer today owe a debt of gratitude to all the women who came before us carrying the load of this disease on their shoulders. I’m grateful to those women who paved the way on this road none of us ever wanted to be on. I’m grateful to the women who would not be silenced or shamed for having a disease like breast cancer, women who made a difference; women like Betty Ford, my mom and all the others.

We will not forget.

Who is a woman you are grateful to for paving the way on the road no one wants to be on?

Do you think the “war” on cancer is winnable?

My favorite photo because I admire the feminist side of Betty Ford.


Looking a bit posed, but still lovely.

14 thoughts to “Remembering Betty Ford, My Mom and All the Others”

  1. Really great post, Nancy. I also smiled knowing she beat the odds. Betty Ford was truly a breast cancer survivor, which is fantastic, but in spite of her work, when my mother was initially diagnosed in 1984, the stigma was still loud and clear. She kept it to herself for the most part and that saddens me. She would have loved our community, as I do.

    I hope the war on cancer is one we can win. Maybe if we live to 93, we’ll find out.

    1. Stacey, Thanks for commenting. It saddens me to think your mom still felt that stigma, although I think there’s still a certain amount of that even today. But we have come a long way since the seventies in that regard anyway. I think both our moms would have loved the community aspect you and I enjoy, and like you, I am very grateful for that. I think the war on cancer is winnable. It has to be.

  2. Very nice post Nancy; I too cheered when I realized that cancer didn’t “get” Betty Ford as well. Here’s to all survivors making it to their 90s.

    1. Lisa, Thanks for your comment. The sad thing, Lisa, is that we know many will not make it. That can’t continue to be something we just accept.

  3. Nancy,

    I LOVE this posting. You capture the wonderful qualities of Betty Ford, and I’m glad you brought up Nixon’s war on cancer.

    Is the war on cancer winnable? I really wish it were. But without the research dollars, we don’t have a chance to win it — and I mean all cancers.

    Thanks again for another thought-provoking posting.

    1. Beth, Thanks for your comments. I think this war is winnable if we get more serious with the funding. I find it odd we are willing to back all those ‘other wars’ with seemingly unlimited dollars, but for the cancer war…

  4. I worry about the stigma, but not enough to be quiet (being 31 with breast cancer leaves a long road ahead of me to either keep it quiet, or rather hopefully help other women and research). Way to go Betty Ford!

    1. Mandi, Thanks for commenting. I am so glad that women like you are not keeping quiet! This disease does strike young women like you and that’s another reason we need more and better research in all areas, and specifically for research that focuses on prevention of new tumor growth and also stopping tumor growth once a cancer has metastisized. So, please do NOT keep quiet, Mandi! And yes, way to go Betty Ford!

  5. Nancy, in your own way, you are continuing to inform. Your blog does just that!
    Thank you for this informative post. It does somehow have a profound affect when we learn that a fellow warrior has passed as a result of their cancer. I have not really worked out if the time between diagnosis and passing eases the pain.
    Love visiting to read your thoughts. Have missed it in my absence.

  6. What a nice tribute to a public figure woman whom I admire greatly. She really did pave the way for others, didn’t she?

    I’m grateful to the Italian women who in the seventies took CMF chemo for breast cancer without knowing what would befall them. I benefited from their willingness to step up and be counted in the groundbreaking clinical trial.

    I don’t know if the “war” on cancer is winnable, particularly since each type of cancer is actually many cancers within a subgroup. So, if we even say that the “war” on breast cancer is winnable, we are really saying we can tackle all 14 (at least) of the types of this one kind of cancer. Maybe it’s doable, but probably not in my lifetime.

    Thanks for the thoughtful post.

    1. Jan, We owe a great deal to many women who came before us carrying the load of this disease. Some of them, like Betty Ford, are well known, of course, but there are so many ordinary women too. I sometimes wonder about all of their untold stories… I do believe this war is winnable. Why aren’t we willing to fund this war like we do the others? Lives are at stake here, too, and a different kind of national security is as well. Thanks for your comments. As always, I appreciate your insights.

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