Former first lady Betty Ford was laid to rest on Tuesday, July 12. She was 93 at the time of her death. One thing is for certain, Mrs. Ford will be well remembered . . . not only for her fight for women's rights, but for her health-related issues as well.
Soon after her husband, Gerald Ford, entered the presidency in 1974, Ford underwent a mastectomy for breast cancer
. At that time the word “cancer” was cloaked with fearful, hushed tones. But Ford's public disclosure of her own battle with the disease tore away this veil of secrecy. She used her position as first lady to promote screening and early detection, and there is no doubt that millions of women owe their lives to her steely determination to fight breast cancer
It’s without a doubt that because she was such a strong advocate for women's health, the societal taboos surrounding breast cancer are a thing of the past.
Zora Brown, founder of the Breast Cancer Resource Committee, said, “Without Betty Ford, women would be dying in far greater numbers than they are now.” Mrs. Ford went on to lend her name to the Betty Ford Diagnostic Breast Center, which today has six clinics offering women a short wait between mammogram and diagnosis. Living by truth and candor.
The former first lady is also known for her candid quips. She publicly remarked that she would have smoked pot when she was a teenager and that she wouldn’t be surprised if her daughter were sexually active - still rather shocking admissions for an older woman in the 1970s. Ford was also vocal about her support for abortion rights, though her viewpoint was in direct opposition to her husband’s. “Having babies is a blessing, not a duty,” she said.
Mrs. Ford was never afraid to speak the truth . . . whether about her cancer or her addiction to alcohol and painkillers
. She broke new ground when she publicly broached the sensitive subject of her own addictions. In her 1987 memoir, Ford wrote, “I liked alcohol. It made me feel warm. And I loved pills. They took away my tension and my pain.”
The Betty Ford Center opened in 1982 and has treated more than 75,000 people battling addiction to alcohol and drugs. In 2006 the Betty Ford Institute was created in an effort to focus on research, education, and public policy.
Thousands of people will remember Betty Ford not only as being a first lady, but as someone they could relate and get close to. By insisting on honesty and candor about chemical dependency and cancer, others going through the same physical and emotional pain can seek and receive help in their battles.