WESTON (CBS4) – Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz never expected at just 41-years old to find a lump in her breast… a lump that turned out to be breast cancer.
“For me as a mom with children and a husband I love, the thing that you worry about when you are initially diagnosed is are you going to see your kids high school graduation… their Bar and Bat Mitzvahs,” Wasserman Schultz told CBS4 News Anchor Shannon Hori.
She decided to fight the cancer in private, telling only her husband and a few close friends. She did not tell her children.
“The main reason was to protect my kids,” she said. “My little one was five the older two were nine.”
She also learned that she was a carrier of the BRCA 2 breast cancer gene, which made the likelihood of a recurrence higher and increased her chances for ovarian cancer.
While continuing to travel and work between South Florida and Washington D.C., Wasserman Schultz underwent a double mastectomy and had her ovaries removed.
“Ultimately, I spent a year going through seven surgeries. That was 2008, the last Presidential election, so I had a little bit going on. When you have breast cancer you feel like everything else is spiraling out of control and what you can control you want to hold on to.”
When she was declared cancer free she told her children, and then also went public.
She introduced the Early Act which helps raise awareness of breast cancer among young women.
“I just never thought it would be me,” the Congresswoman said. “It came out of the clear blue sky. So I’m the poster girl for women who maybe don’t pay so much attention but because I did know enough of what to do, I’m here before you today.”
In October of 2009, Wasserman Schultz led the procession of breast cancer survivors at the Race for the Cure.
“I don’t get very emotional. I internalize things and can handle it. So I surprised myself, when literally the first steps I took, I was overcome with emotion. I hadn’t cried really since my surgery. And that happened again, in 2010 also, my mom walked with me and all three of my kids.”
Hori asked Wasserman Schultz to describe what it is like the day of the race to be surrounded by a sea of survivors.
“You feel like it’s so isolating. Breast cancer is so isolating. You feel like you’re the only one going through it. But when you get in the midst of all those women, you know that you are not alone.”
Wasserman Schultz admitted that it’s a sisterhood that no one wanted to be a part of. But she is proud to say she’s one of them — a survivor.
“I will get to say I’m a four-year survivor this year. The joy you feel that you get to say that… it’s indescribable.”