Editor's Note: Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz represents Florida's 20th Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives. She is also Chairwoman of the Committee on Appropriations' Legislative Branch Subcommittee and Vice Chair of the House LGBT Equality Caucus. The congresswoman wanted to share her thoughts on a very important issue- Breast Cancer.
In the ten seconds it took you to read this far, you could be scheduling a mammogram.
By now, you could be teaching your daughter about breast self awareness.
And in the thirty seconds it took you to read up to here, you could make sure your friend knows her family history of breast cancer.
If any of these life-saving tasks are still on your to-do list, please, don't read any more of this column; do them right now.
As you may know, October marks the start of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in women ages 15 to 54, according to the National Cancer Institute. In 2009 alone, the American Cancer Society estimates that there will be 194,280 new cases of breast cancer across our nation, and 40,610 of these Americans will die from the disease.
Although these statistics may seem discouraging, we have made significant progress. Steady declines in breast cancer mortality among women since 1990 have been attributed to a combination of early detection and improvements in treatment. When breast cancer is detected at early stages the survival rate for women is over 98 percent.
Simply stated, many of these improvements would not have happened without Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and its focus on research, education, and awareness, which increase early diagnoses and save lives.
Personally, the importance of education and awareness became even more apparent to me about a year and a half ago, when my doctor diagnosed me with breast cancer.
Having been a legislator for more than 15 years and having passed breast cancer legislation, I knew about breast cancer. I knew the importance of early detection--clinical exams every 3 years as of age 20; every year after 40; mammograms every year after 40. And yet for all that I knew, I soon realized how much I didn't know.
I knew about the BRCA-1 and BRCA-2 gene mutations, but I didn't know that some women were more likely to have the mutation associated with breast cancer. I didn't know that--even with no immediate family history of breast cancer--as an Ashkenazi Jew I was five times more likely to have the mutation.
I didn't know that having the mutation meant that I'd have up to an 85 percent lifetime chance of getting breast cancer, and up to a 60 percent chance of getting ovarian cancer. I knew that young women can and do get breast cancer, but like a lot of younger women, I didn't know just how many of us it touches.
So please, if any of this information is news to you, don't read this column; go take care of your breast health, or educate someone you love about theirs.
We must do all that we can to ensure the women we love are aware of their breast health and know their bodies. That is why I introduced H.R. 1740, the Breast Cancer Education and Awareness Requires Learning Young Act, or EARLY Act - because I am determined to be one of the last young women who didn't know enough about breast cancer.
The EARLY Act is designed to educate young women and their physicians about breast health, and provide support for young women diagnosed with breast cancer. And when the EARLY Act becomes law, we can fulfill the vital goals of breast cancer awareness month - increasing education, research, and awareness - all year long.
But research, education, and awareness are not all that we focus on during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. This special time of year is also an opportunity to celebrate and honor the thousands of women throughout the country who have been diagnosed, are currently fighting, died fighting, or have survived breast cancer.
People often say, "everyone knows someone who has had breast cancer." But the truth is that everyone has someone close to them who has had breast cancer. We must also take this opportunity to honor and recognize the people close to us who have won their fight against breast cancer, who are still fighting against breast cancer, who died from breast cancer, and who are working hard every day to make sure no one else dies from breast cancer.
As your Representative in Congress, know that I stand with you in solidarity during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, wholly committed to increasing early diagnoses, saving more lives, and ultimately, finding a cure to wipe out this deadly disease. Together, we can save more moms, more sisters, more grandmas, and more loved ones. So please, help us get a head start by talking to the women in your life.
I'm working to raise young women's awareness of breast cancer. If you'd like to learn more about breast cancer, or need help on another issue, you can reach my office in Pembroke Pines at (954) 437-3936, in Aventura at (305) 936-5724, or in Washington, DC at (202) 225-7931. For more information on the Early Act, please visit my Web site at: www.house.gov/wassermanschultz.