As someone who ran for student government in high school and lost, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz knew she had to think of a new way to approach the confusing and dizzying political process for herself. During a discussion of health-care policy, she encouraged UF professionals to do the same and be advocates for change in the medical community.
Speaking to a crowd of College of Medicine students and faculty in the McKnight Brain Institute’s DeWeese auditorium Nov. 20, the congresswoman explained there are many ways people can affect the political process and health-care policy, although petitioning usually isn’t one of them.
“How many times have you gone outside of Publix and someone shoves a clipboard in your face asking you to sign and save the whales?” said Wasserman Schultz, the representative for Florida’s 20th District, which encompasses Fort Lauderdale, North Broward County and Miami Beach. “You have no idea what you just signed; I know that and therefore, your signature has almost no influence on my opinion.”
Wasserman Schultz revealed that a heartfelt letter, written in pen at a kitchen table, has been the most effective way of getting her attention on an issue because it shows a person put time and effort into their thoughts. Getting an appointment to meet with a member of Congress at the district office is another alternative, she added.
Aside from explaining how doctors and students could get their own messages across to Congress, Wasserman Schultz spoke about her own thoughts on health care and how they have changed since her bout with breast cancer, something she disclosed in March 2009.
After she found a lump in her breast and brought it to her doctor’s attention, she was given three choices, she said. The first choice was to have a biopsy. The second choice was fine needle aspiration, which would put the cancer at risk for spreading. The third was to put off treatment until a later visit.
“Doing nothing was presented to me as a perfectly viable option,” she said. “If something is inside of me that doesn’t belong there — I don’t care if it’s a cyst or a pingpong ball — that shouldn’t even be a question.”
Wasserman Schultz said she felt primary care professionals were often too dismissive of young women who came in with a problem, and that more time should be spent on the initial conversation about possibilities and treatment.
Because of this, she introduced a bill into Congress called the Education and Awareness Requires Learning Young Act, a piece of legislation that directs the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to develop and implement a national education campaign about the threat breast cancer poses to young women and the particular heightened risks of certain ethnic, cultural and racial groups.
“I could just stand up here and tell you I’d fight for more funding for breast cancer research, but who wouldn’t do that?” she said. “I want to serve as a face to the cause and tell my story to help more women.”
This was only a recent decision by the congresswoman. She originally kept her battle quiet to protect her family and so that others wouldn’t judge her abilities because of her diagnosis. She describes herself as a “doer” and didn’t want her name to be negatively associated with the disease in print. Her name is long enough to read on its own, she joked.
She also hopes the medical community will be more sensitive to the constant angst of women living with cancer and hopes her policy will address their concerns, such as fertility and chemotherapy.
“I just feel like there’s something we need to do for these younger women,” she said. “Even if it’s an unnecessary biopsy or two, just something to make sure they don’t wind up dead.”