“…one day I appeared to be fine and the next day I was in the hospital for a mastectomy. It made me realize how many women in the country could be in the same situation.
That realization made me decide to discuss my breast cancer operation openly, because I thought of all the lives in jeopardy. My experience and frank discussion of breast cancer did prompt many women to learn about self-examination, regular checkups, and such detection techniques as mammography. These are so important. I just cannot stress enough how necessary it is for women to take an active interest in their own health and body.
Too many women are so afraid of breast cancer that they endanger their lives. These fears of being “less” of a woman are very real, and it is very important to talk about the emotional side effects honestly. They must come out into the open.”
-Betty Ford in her remarks to the American Cancer Society, 1975
People didn’t talk openly about breast cancer when Betty Ford was diagnosed with the disease in 1974. As First Lady, Betty openly shared her breast cancer and mastectomy experiences with the public. In the process, she advocated for public awareness of breast cancer, self-examinations for early detection, and women’s health.
In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month, here are photos that the First Lady shared with the public following her breast cancer surgery at Bethesda Naval Hospital on October 4, 1974. One year later, Betty greeted the press in front of the Guttman Institute for Early Detection of Breast Cancer in New York.