Betty Ford

Address to an American Cancer Society Awards Dinner

delivered 7 November 1975, Waldorf Astoria Hotel, New York, NY

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[AUTHENTICITY PARTIALLY CERTIFIED: Text version below transcribed directly from audio]

Thank you very much, Dr. Rosemont [ph].

Needless to say, I'm very glad to be here tonight -- and that's not just a line I borrowed from somebody.

I feel absolutely marvelous. I just had my annual checkup and all my tests are completely clear. There's no sign -- [applause]. There's no sign whatsoever of a cancerous reoccurrence at this point. And I am convinced I am completely cured.

Thanks to that checkup last September, good doctors, a loving, supporting husband, understanding children -- I can truly say this past year has been one of the richest years of my life.

When I went into the operating room that morning, I had a pretty good premonition that it was going to turn out to be a malignancy, and that my breast would have to be removed. But once the operation was over, I was really very much relieved. I felt the doctors had removed the cancer at such an early stage that I was very lucky and would have no more troubles.

The most difficult moments, as a matter of fact, were trying to pull my family through my cancer operation. I really had to pull them through, and to try to make them happy because they were so sad and so upset.

The malignancy was something my husband never expected, and he couldn't believe it was happening to me. The whole family were so depressed.

I think their surprise was a very natural reaction, because one day I appeared to be fine and the next day, the very next day, I was in the hospital for a mastectomy. This made me realize how many women in this country could be in exactly the same situation.

That realization made me decide to discuss my breast cancer operation openly, because I thought of all of the many lives in jeopardy. My experience and frank discussion of breast cancer did promote -- prompt many women to learn about self-examination, regular checkups, and [such] detection techniques as mammography -- and the things that are so important. I just cannot stress enough how necessary it is for women to take the time out of their active lives and take an interest in their own health and their own 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's important to talk about the emotional side effects. We have to speak of it honestly. They must come out in[to] the open, and they must be understood.

It was easier for me to accept my operation. After all, I had been married for 26 years and we had four lovely children and there was no problem of lack of love or affection or attention.

But some women don't have these same emotional resources, and it's very necessary to deal realistically with the fears about breast cancer.

It isn't vanity to worry about disfigurement. It's an honest concern. I started wearing low-cut dresses as soon as my scar healed. In fact, my husband said, "Why don't you start a new style, dear, and wear your low-cut dresses in back."

This gave me great encouragement and my worries about my appearance are now just the normal ones of trying to stay slim and seeing that my hair and my make-up and everything is in order. As lay there, and when I asked myself, "Would you rather lose a right arm or right a breast" -- I don't think I have to tell you the answer: Of course it was much more important to me to have my right arm. The most important thing in life is good health -- and that I have.

That is the medical side.

Cancer also produces fear -- and much of that fear comes from ignorance about the progress already made, progress we have heard about here tonight at this table, and that that is to come. The progress that is already made and this ignorance is the need for preventive medicine for men and women alike.

Cancer, whenever it strikes the body, also strikes the spirit, and the best doctors in the world cannot cure the spirit. Only love and understanding can accomplish that important role. All of us -- every single one of us -- can give love and support to our friends who have cancer. We can open our hearts, our minds to dealing with the fears that the victims have, and also the fears that many of us have of that disease itself.

I believe we are all here to help each other and that our individual lives have patterns and purposes. My illness turned out to have a very special purpose: helping save other lives. And I am grateful for what I was able to do.

I always will be.

Early detection is the secret.

Thank you very much.

Original Text and Audio Source:

Original Image Source: Library of Congress

Text Note: Transcribed from stand-alone audio provided by the National Archives and Records Administration at the The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library

Image Note: Digitally modified for color balance and image clarity

Page Updated: 11/15/22

U.S. Copyright Status:  Text = Property of Audio and Image = Public domain.























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