By Debbie Wasserman Schultz
Last night, I received a personal and significant honor from Susan G. Komen, the Betty Ford Lifetime Achievement Award of Distinction at their Honoring the Promise gala. And today I feel privileged to be the voice on their Huffington Post page.
I am still reveling in a night that celebrated the lives and contributions of so many incredible and inspiring people, and I am humbled to join the ranks of the other award winners. Sharing the stage with fellow-awardee David Rubenstein, emcee and breast cancer survivor Joan Lunden, and other luminaries in the ongoing fight against the disease, was remarkable.
Betty Ford blazed trails that so many of us are still running today. Her candor, her unapologetic outspokenness for issues about which she cared deeply and personally, has inspired me and countless other women.
Her bold decision to speak honestly and loudly about her mastectomy - forty years ago this month - helped open a wider communal and national conversation about breast cancer. She encouraged other women - and men - to not be ashamed of their diseases, of themselves, or of their bodies.
The First Lady brought conversations -- that had been relegated to private whispers -- out into the open and helped build a national movement.
A few years later, when Nancy Brinker founded the Susan G. Komen organization in honor of her sister, Nancy built on that movement, refusing to accept that we couldn't openly say the words "breast cancer."
These women have undoubtedly shaped awareness and education about breast cancer.
But beyond that, they, like Susan Ford Bales and Victoria Reggie Kennedy, have helped reshape the role that women play in politics and public policy. As mothers, daughters, sisters, we have unique voices and perspectives to bring to the table. Betty Ford spoke not only about her battle with breast cancer, but about other taboo subjects like drug addiction. Susan has followed in her mother's footsteps. Victoria has been a leading voice on gun violence - one of the most pressing and frightening issues we face as a society today.
While we have all come a long way on a number of social and public health issues, particularly breast cancer, we still have much more to do. We cannot and will not let our cancers define us. We must continue banding together to transform our personal experiences into support for others.
After I personally experienced the importance of self-exams - one more thing we can thank Betty Ford for publicizing - and my own cancer diagnosis and treatment, I knew that I had to introduce legislation to help other young women facing this terrible disease.
And that is why, as soon as I was cancer-free, I introduced the Breast Health Education and Awareness Requires Learning Young Act, or the EARLY Act. When it became law as part of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, I wore that as a badge of pride on behalf of millions of survivors.
The EARLY Act focuses on a central tenet: that we must empower young women to understand their bodies and speak up for their health.
I'm proud to say the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate are currently considering a reauthorization of the EARLY Act with strong bipartisan support. Later this year, I will also be introducing legislation that will address the unique situations facing young survivors.
The EARLY Act would not have been possible without the tireless advice and advocacy from Komen and so many other organizations, doctors, researchers and above all survivors themselves.
We have a saying in my faith - L'dor v'dor - which means from "generation to generation" - which I couldn't help but think of last night as Susan and Vicki presented me this honor in front of my husband, children, parents and brother - the seven most important people in my life, particularly my three incredible kids. Having to tell them about my disease was one of the hardest things I've ever done, but fighting both before and after because I wanted not only to be there for their graduations and weddings but to also help millions of others be there for their families, well, that was one of the easiest.
So, thank you Susan G. Komen. You've made me feel so special, and I am buoyed by the love and encouragement of your vast network of supporters and advocates and survivors. And rather than looking at this award as a culmination, I am inspired and feel charged with continuing to advocate on behalf of other younger cancer survivors and working toward the day when we celebrate a world free of breast cancer deaths.
At just 47, I have a lot of fighting and living left to do!
Wasserman Schultz represents Florida's 23rd District in Congress, and is the Chair of the Democratic National Committee.