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MSNBC Interview - Transcript


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MS. O'DONNELL: New federal legislation is being unveiled today that calls for a national breast cancer education campaign. The campaign is aimed at arming women under 40 with information that could save their lives.

Joining me now is the author of that bill, Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. She's going public with her own battle with breast cancer in hopes of helping others.

Congresswoman, so good to see you. Thanks so much for joining us.

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Good to see you, too, Norah. Thanks for having me.

MS. O'DONNELL: Tell us what this new legislation would do if passed.

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: This legislation is called the EARLY Act, the Education and Awareness Requires Learning Young Act of 2009, and it's designed to get information and awareness out to women younger than 40 years old about their risk factors. So often, young women think about breast cancer as being an older woman's disease, you know, they're not targeted for mammograms until they're 40 years old and they think they're invincible.

And so, very often, when diagnosed with breast cancer like I was, they're diagnosed with a later stage breast cancer and the survival rate is dramatically reduced. I was lucky. I found a lump in my breast a little over a year ago. It was less than half a centimeter. I caught it very early because I do breast self-exam and knew about that, but so many women don't and so many women don't know what their risks are.

MS. O'DONNELL: You have undergone seven major surgeries in the last year.


MS. O'DONNELL: While balancing motherhood, being a Congresswoman, you're on television a lot, advocating on behalf during the presidential campaign and you are young.


MS. O'DONNELL: You're 42 years old. Is there not enough awareness about young women and breast cancer?

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: There really isn't. You know, after I was diagnosed on top of that I found out through a blood test that I carry the BRCA-2 genetic mutation, which makes me as an Ashkenazi Jewish woman more susceptible to breast cancer. So I elected even though I caught my cancer early to have a double mastectomy and have my ovaries removed because the likelihood was so much more dramatic that I would have a recurrence being a genetic carrier.

So we need to get this education out because too many young women, I mean, I had no idea that Ashkenazi Jewish women were more likely to carry this gene, one in 40 Jews carry the genetic marker. African American young women are more likely to carry it and an education campaign targeted towards young women to tell them that they should communicate with their doctors, they should do self-exam, they should be aware of their risk factors and this also focuses on educating physicians because, too often, they sweep women's health problems aside and they don't know that they should look for the possibility of breast cancer in a young woman.

MS. O'DONNELL: You have been quiet about this while you've been battling this for the past year.


MS. O'DONNELL: You're now coming public now as you introduce this new bill. Was that difficult to talk about? Or is it difficult to talk about your own personal experience? And why did you decide to go public?

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: You know, it isn't difficult to talk about it now that I'm all the way through it. I have three young children. My twins were eight and my little one was four when I was diagnosed and I wanted to make sure that I could protect them, that I could tell them when I knew that I could assure them that I was healthy, which I am now and that I was going to be okay. I wanted them not to have to worry; cancer is a very scary thing and the important thing to understand is that every woman needs to be able to deal with it in their own personal way. There is not a one size fits all way to deal with this. For me, I didn't want it to define me and I wanted to make sure that I could confidently tell my children when I was through all of my procedures that their mommy was going to be around for a very long time to torture them.

MS. O'DONNELL: Very well. Exactly. Congresswoman, we are thrilled that you are well.


MS. O'DONNELL: And congratulate you on going public with this in this new legislation.

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Thank you so much.

MS. O'DONNELL: And good luck getting it passed and thanks for joining us.

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Thank you. Thanks for having me, Norah.

MS. O'DONNELL: Sure thing.


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