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Public Statements

Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. Mr. Speaker, I rise today as we close out the month to recognize October as Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Even as Congress has struggled with the basic task of funding our Federal Government, we are mindful that we have pressing problems and important work to do to raise awareness and help women survive this deadly disease.

Over the last few decades, these public efforts have helped educate people and promote awareness about breast cancer, but we must remain vigilant in the fight because there is so much more to be done.

The statistics are sobering: one in eight women will get breast cancer in her lifetime. This disease strikes women--and some men--of all backgrounds, races, ethnicities, and ages. While all women are at risk, many still think it can't happen to them, especially young women. But I know all too well that it can. In 2007, when I was just 41 years old, I learned I had breast cancer.

While we have made significant advances on some fronts, recent studies show that more and more young women are being diagnosed with breast cancer, and metastasis rates are not going down.

I believe we have a responsibility as Members of Congress to take Breast Cancer Awareness Month one step further and turn awareness into action. We must take action to implement the Affordable Care Act and continue to ensure that every single person in this country has access to the information they need to make informed decisions about their health.

We must take action to ensure women get the preventative services and screenings they need, while understanding their risks and treatment options.

With this in mind, in 2009 I sponsored the Education and Awareness Requires Learning Young Act, or the EARLY Act. The EARLY Act focus on equipping young women with the tools they need to take charge of their health.

Currently, the Centers for Disease Control is developing evidence-based interventions and working with advocacy organizations on programs that provide support services for young breast cancer survivors and their families, as well as a national education and awareness campaign to help young women understand their risk and take charge of their health.

Even with the CDC's work under the EARLY Act, we must do more to assist those women who survive breast cancer, and I am developing new legislative efforts on this front. I am working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle.

Young cancer survivors face very different life challenges than older survivors--from fertility preservation issues to the long-term health and neurocognitive effects of cancer treatments. With cancer care, one size does not fit all. The young face many more years as survivors and have unique challenges that arise that are not experienced by survivors who are diagnosed later in life.

There was good news from the Supreme Court earlier this year when they took some action to help improve our ability to detect, diagnose, and treat breast cancer. This past June, the Justices ruled unanimously that a company cannot patent naturally occurring genes. This decision paves the way for more companies to offer genetic tests for gene mutations that significantly increase the risk of developing diseases like breast or ovarian cancer. Thanks to this ruling, more women will have access to affordable testing and second-opinion testing about their risks and courses of treatment.

Like many others before me, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer and later identified as a BRAC2 gene mutation carrier, I had to make life-altering decisions without the benefit of a second opinion or even a second test. That will now be a thing of the past thanks to the Supreme Court decision.

Again, though, there is still so much more to be done. We must work to guarantee that insurers, including programs like Medicare, cover testing where appropriate and preventative surgery where necessary.

And there is still work left to be done to fully implement the Affordable Care Act. While implementation of any major change comes with great changes--and we have certainly had some of those--it also comes with great reward. For example, I am thrilled that this coming January, with the opening of the health insurance marketplaces, no woman will ever have to worry again about being dropped from her health coverage when battling breast cancer.

Before the Affordable Care Act, too many Americans were just one diagnosis away from having to face cancer without affordable, quality coverage that could not be taken away.

A case in point is my friend Mary Ann Wasil of the Get in Touch Foundation. She wrote me a few weeks ago to say her life literally depends on the Affordable Care Act. Mary Ann is battling advanced breast cancer. She is currently on COBRA insurance. When that runs out, she would surely be uninsurable without the Affordable Care Act. Mary Ann's chemotherapy treatment for the month of July alone was $110,000. Simply put, without coverage she could not afford the treatment she needs. Her note to me said: ``This is real for me. It is life or death for me.''

This is why the Affordable Care Act is so important for breast cancer warriors like Mary Ann.

I have had so many women come up to me, Mr. Speaker, and confess that they haven't had a mammogram in years because before the Affordable Care Act, they could not afford the expensive copays and deductibles or feared the prohibitive costs of treatment. They were literally afraid to get a diagnosis because they were worried they couldn't afford treatment.

That worry is a thing of the past. Education and awareness is only half the battle. For breast cancer or any serious disease, access to affordable, quality health insurance is a necessity. It is not a privilege. It is a right for every American. Looking forward, we must work together to help women know their risks, discover cancer early, and access the best treatment possible.

As we continue to learn more and help more young women, let us commemorate Breast Cancer Awareness Month with a renewed dedication to support our mothers, sisters, daughters, and sister-friends. Together, let's eradicate breast cancer once and for all.


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