Betty Ford: The First Lady Who Tore Down Walls

Happy birthday to former first lady Betty Ford, who would have been 101 today. She was one of the most important first ladies, and women in American history.

In September of 1974, just weeks after her husband became President, Mrs. Ford accompanied her friend who was going to the Doctor to have a breast examination. She decided she would have an exam as well, mostly to support her friend.   It turned out the first lady actually had breast cancer.

At the time, it was considered taboo to speak publicly about breast cancer. Women would die, and in their obituary it would only say “she passed away of a woman’s disease.”

First lady Ford decided she wanted to be very open and public about her battle with breast cancer.  She chose this path  so that others would be encouraged to get themselves examined, at not feel any sense of shame or shyness about having the deadly disease. There is no official statistic to cite, but Doctors all across the country reported that many more women were asking to have breast examinations in the weeks and months that followed.

Additionally, she was a pioneer in caring for people with addiction and substance abuse problems. She developed her own addiction to opioid pain killers in the 1960’s while dealing with pain from a pinched nerve in her neck. After the Fords left the White House, she also began drinking heavily.

In 1978, just a year removed from being first Lady of the United States, it got so bad that her family had to have an intervention. She then checked in to a rehab center in Florida. While there, she did dishes, mopped floors, and other chores just like any other resident. Not only did she get clean, but she learned the stories of the others who suffered from the same afflictions.

In 1982, she opened the Betty Ford clinic which not only treated people with addictions, but also cared for their children. The Betty Ford Clinic would serve as a model for similar healing facilities all over the country and world.

Thank you Betty Ford for having the courage to admit you had personal challenges, and share your struggle with them to save countless others. Your bravery made our country and world a better place.

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