Heard on the Hill

Wasserman Schultz Marks 10 Years Since Breast Cancer Diagnosis

Florida Democrat shares what her “cancer-versary” milestone means to her

Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz shows a softball signed by participants in the Congressional Women's Softball Game. (Bian Elkhatib/ CQ Roll Call)

Dec. 7 is no ordinary day for Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz. On this day in 2007, the Florida Democrat was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“Dec. 7th for me is always emotional but having reached 10 years since I was diagnosed, which is the milestone for any cancer survivor — it’s your cancer-versary — it’s pretty overwhelming,” she said.

The diagnosis came “so out of the blue,” Wasserman Schultz recalled.

“One day I was the picture of health, the next day I was a cancer patient and at 41 years old, it was the last thing I ever expected. From 2007 in December to 2008 in December, [it] was a year of hell. Seven surgeries, tremendous amount of taxing, physical experience and fear,” she said.

Watch: Wasserman Schultz Shares Breast Cancer Experience on Milestone Anniversary of Diagnosis

Her biggest fear at the time was missing milestones in her three children’s lives. Wasserman Schultz has now seen all three of their bar or bat mitzvah’s and two high school graduations.

Her children were part of the reason why, 10 years ago, she kept her diagnosis a secret.

“My children were so little and I didn’t want them to be scared. I knew I was going to be OK but I had a lot to go through and cancer is so scary for children and I didn’t want them to think that one day mommy’s not going to come home,” she said.

The other reason had to do with her career.

“When you’re a cancer patient, you lose control of everything, it seems like,” Wasserman Schultz said. “So the one thing that I could control was how much I could do and I didn’t want well-meaning people, who would know I had cancer, to say, ‘Oh, we can’t ask Debbie to do that because she has cancer.’”

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One of the people she told before she went public with her diagnosis was her close friend, Sen. Amy Klobuchar. The Minnesota Democrat sent her pink boxing gloves to show her support through her colleague’s battle.

Wasserman Schultz went public in 2009 and is now an outspoken advocate for women with breast cancer. 

“I knew I would share what I had been through and use the platform that I have as a member of Congress to be able to help other women and other families,” she said “I wanted to do it in a way that was not just, ‘Well, I’m for cancer research, I’m for finding a cure.’ I wanted to find a void and fill it.”

Wasserman Schultz was behind the so-called EARLY Act, which created a national education campaign for women under 45 as well as an education campaign for health care providers.

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She is also among the women behind the Congressional Women’s Softball Game. First played in 2009, the annual charity event pits female members of Congress against female reporters.

It has since raised over $900,000 for the Young Survival Coalition, which helps young women diagnosed with breast cancer. The 2017 game alone raised $260,000.

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