Friday, September 28, 2007

September 28, 1974:

Betty Ford's Mastectomy

Less than two months after she became first lady, Betty Ford underwent a mastectomy for cancer in her right breast, on September 28, 1974. In previous years, such surgery would have probably been private, perhaps even secret, but the Fords chose to inform the public.

"Mrs. Ford's deliberately frank and outspoken handling of her own surgery for breast cancer when she was First Lady set a visible example that influenced women nationwide, and it helped prompt a significant change in public attitude," noted an article in the health section of the New York Times published in 1987.

"Within weeks thousands of women who had been reluctant to examine their breasts inundated cancer screening centers. One of those following Mrs. Ford's example was Happy Rockefeller, the wife of the Vice President, Nelson A. Rockefeller. She, too, had breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy. Mrs. Rockefeller and many others said Mrs. Ford's example gave them the courage to discuss their experiences openly.

"Doctors discovered a lump in Mrs. Ford's breast in a routine examination in 1974. Entering the hospital for a biopsy on Sept. 27, she and President Ford put on a brave face...

"The biopsy confirmed the presence of cancer the next day, and she had the breast removed, along with the muscle connecting her upper arm to her chest. Cancer cells were found in just two lymph nodes and treatment proved to be effective."

Effective indeed. Not only did she survive the affliction, at 89 she's currently the third-longest-lived first lady, surpassing Edith Wilson in that distinction this summer. Among first ladies, only Bess Truman and Lady Bird Johnson have lived longer (97 and 94, respectively).

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