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MSNBC "Hardball with Chris Matthews" - Transcript


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MSNBC "Hardball with Chris Matthews" - Transcript


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MR. MATTHEWS: Florida U.S. Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, one of our familiar guests here on "Hardball," and certainly one of our more popular, spent the past year battling breast cancer. Along the way she managed to run for and win re-election from Florida, to work for Hillary Clinton and to work for Barack Obama, and to make at least nine appearances on "Hardball," where she always came ready to play.

She joins us once again.

Congresswoman, thank you for joining us. It's great --

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Thanks for having me, Chris.

MR. MATTHEWS: Well, you look nice today, as always.

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Thank you. (Laughs.)

MR. MATTHEWS: Thank you. So you decided to come out and tell the country what you've been going through privately. Why?

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Well, because I always knew that I would do that, because I wanted to be able to use my position in Congress to be able to fill whatever gaps there were in breast cancer advocacy, because it's a disease that continues to kill thousands -- millions of women across this country. It is now the number one killer of young women under 40. And, you know, once I got through my battle privately and was able to protect my children, I wanted to make sure that I could use my position in Congress to be able to help move the ball down the field.

MR. MATTHEWS: You had to make a big decision about radical mastectomy. And that's a decision -- when does that decision confront the average person, a woman who gets affected by this?

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Well, it really depends. I mean, for me, I caught my tumor early and was initially only expected to need a lumpectomy and radiation. But then, because I'm a Jewish woman of Ashkenazi descent, I was encouraged to get a blood test that would tell whether I was a carrier of the BRCA-1 or --2 gene, which would make it more likely that I would have a recurrence. And so I have that gene. I have the BRCA-2 gene.

And at that point, all my decisions were turned upside-down, and a double mastectomy was recommended highly because it was about a 65 percent likelihood that I would have a recurrence in my healthy breast tissue. And then, on top of that, I needed to have my ovaries removed because there is a much higher incidence of ovarian cancer when you carry this gene.

MR. MATTHEWS: And you must have been thinking about your family as well as yourself the whole time.

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Oh, yeah. I mean, my focus was -- I have young children, as you know, and my focus was to make sure that I protected them. Cancer is a very scary thing. It's a scary thing for anyone, but especially for eight- and four-year-olds, which my kids were when I was diagnosed. And I wanted to make sure that I could get all the way through it and be able to come out the other side and confidently tell them that "Mommy's going to be okay and I'm going to be around to torture you for a very long time." And I was able to sit down with them very casually the other night and share the news with them. They knew I had surgery but they didn't really know the details. And now they do, and I was able to answer their questions.

MR. MATTHEWS: Well, I like you so much, and I'm just so glad you're getting through this.


MR. MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about this -- how you keep the energy up, because I've watched you on this program battling away with Wexler and the rest of the gang --


MR. MATTHEWS: -- and battling with me, and I think you've always been out there trouping out there, first for Hillary, who was your first choice, and then for Barack Obama, your second choice. You enthusiastically -- you're one of those people who really did make the turn when you had to, when you saw the option you had to play. And yet all the time I sensed that you were at the top of your game. How did you deal with the energy problem, the personal energy loss when you had to undergo all this therapy --


MR. MATTHEWS: -- and the surgery and all the loss of energy that goes with it? A lot of people think, you know, if you're going to have to engage in all this kind of radiation and all this stuff and whatever else you had to endure, it wears you down.

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Well, I was fortunate. I didn't have to have chemo or radiation. So those debilitating treatments, I didn't have to go through.


REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: But seven surgeries is definitely a challenge during the course of a year. But honestly, you know, what got me through was being able to have so many balls in the air, not having to dwell on what was going on for me personally. I have faith in medicine and faith in my doctors and faith in God. And I, you know, kind of combined all those and just -- you know, just point me in the right direction, tell me what I need to do, and I just moved all the way through it. So --

MR. MATTHEWS: Well, I have a lot of faith in doctors too, but you had to make a big decision (and others ?); a lot of dispute in The New York Times the other day, a big medical report out of New England, that said some of these prostate -- the way people deal with it, just not to give anybody bad medical advice on this show, but a lot of questions raised, by the way, about prostate exams and things like that.

Apparently the numbers in the case of breast cancer are still very good on the side of early detection and early action, right?

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: They really are, absolutely. And that's why I'm filing the EARLY Act this week, which is the Breast Cancer Education and Awareness Requires Learning Young Act of 2009. And it's targeted towards an education campaign that will try to make young women under 40 more aware of their risk factors, more aware of the at- risk populations that they might be in in terms of their risk of carrying the genetic marker, making sure that young women have the opportunity to get some assistance through a grant program, because there are unique issues, Chris.

When you're a young woman and you're diagnosed with breast cancer, you know, if you're single or if you haven't had children yet, if you go through chemo and radiation, your fertility is almost certainly compromised. You know, what are you going to do about preserving your fertility? What about -- you're not going to be able to -- if you have a double mastectomy, you can't breast-feed your children. There are so many unique challenges that young women face.


REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: And we have to live through our lives much longer than older women do when we're diagnosed. So the EARLY Act is designed to help focus on the needs and risk factors for young women in particular, and I'm hopeful we can pass it this year.

MR. MATTHEWS: What about these ethnic factors, like we grew up knowing Tay-Sach's and other diseases that affect African-Americans?


MR. MATTHEWS: And you mentioned that particular background you have, Ashkenazi, which is your family comes out of Europe.


MR. MATTHEWS: How -- are there any other aspects to that that people ought to know about, just the background issues with regard to probability of facing a problem?

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: African-American young women are also much more likely to carry the gene. It's still -- you know, it's a small percentage of people in the population that are carriers of this gene. But among those populations, it's much higher; like, for example, the numbers for Jews is one in 40, one in 40 Jews, because our population has shrunk since the Holocaust. You know, we tend to marry within the faith, and as a result, the gene spreads in a more concentrated way.

And it's important to know the risk factors, important to know if you have breast cancer in your immediate family. It makes you more likely -- if you present with breast cancer as a young woman, that's a warning sign that maybe you should get the blood test. So we're trying to get this legislation passed so that we can make sure young women are more aware of their risk factors, that they perform breast self-exam.

The critical thing for me, Chris, was that I was aware of my own body. I did breast self-exam regularly. I caught my tumor early. Early detection, like you said at the beginning of this, is absolutely the key to survival.

MR. MATTHEWS: Well, it was amazing seeing you down in Alabama commemorating the great fight --

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: That was incredible.

MR. MATTHEWS: -- for civil rights all those years ago. You are a multitasker --


MR. MATTHEWS: -- from heaven.


MR. MATTHEWS: Thank you so much. Congratulations on winning our "Hardball" award --

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Thanks, Chris. Thank you so much.

MR. MATTHEWS: -- a small charm on your otherwise busy bracelet of success in life.

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: But very meaningful.

MR. MATTHEWS: Thank you very much for joining us.


MR. MATTHEWS: U.S. Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, thanks for joining us.


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