Inspire hope through knowledge

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In an election year partisan politics can often seem to be at their worst. There are many issues up for debate, but there is one we can all agree on: breast cancer should not be able to take any more of the women we love.

As we mark the start of National Breast Cancer Awareness month, we are once again reminded that this is a disease that knows no boundaries. Breast cancer strikes women from all backgrounds, races, and ethnicities, the rich and the poor, the old and the young. In the United States, women have a 1 in 8 chance of developing invasive breast cancer during their lifetime, and a 1 in 35 chance that the disease will take their life.

In the fall of 2007, at the age of 41, I heard the words no woman wants to hear: "You have breast cancer." To me, it was like getting hit with an anvil—a huge weight that crashes down on you. In 2008, I had the first of seven surgeries. I spent that year in recovery, in and out of the hospital. I remember sitting in the hospital after one of my surgeries, waiting for a test to come back, wondering how many more birthdays I would get with my kids? How many more anniversaries would I get to celebrate with my husband? I don't care how strong you are: it's scary.

Fortunately, we have more hope for survival than ever before. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, more women have access to comprehensive health care coverage and new treatments for breast cancer. Preventative services like mammograms are now available for no co-pay, so women don't have to worry about being able to afford a test that could save their life.

An important first step in the battle against cancer is educating people about how to detect any abnormalities. As one of the 2.5 million breast cancer survivors living in our country today, I wanted to use my own experiences with breast cancer to help other young women deal with the pain and difficulty of diagnosis and treatment. After I experienced the importance of early detection first hand, I knew that I had to introduce legislation to help other young women facing this terrible disease. That's why I introduced the Breast Health Education and Awareness Requires Learning Young Act, or the EARLY Act. The EARLY Act, which became law as part of the Affordable Care Act, focuses on a central tenet: that we must empower young women to understand their bodies and speak up for their health. It also creates an education and outreach campaign that will highlight the breast cancer risks facing young women 45 and under, and empower them with the tools they need to fight this deadly disease.

Together, we can support our mothers, sisters, daughters, and sister-friends, and eradicate breast cancer once and for all. We can help the women in our lives get a head start by talking to them today. By sharing with more women the knowledge we possess—about risk, about early detection, about practicing good breast health—we can give more women the power to stand up, the power to speak up and the power to survive.

When we passed the Affordable Care Act, and when the Supreme Court upheld it this summer, it was personal to me. And when Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan talk about repealing critical reforms for millions of women across the country, I take that personally, too.

They're asking the women in those waiting rooms to continue paying more for health care coverage, just because they're women. And they're allowing insurers to continue denying coverage to breast cancer survivors like me, who are only here because a screening caught their cancer in time.

I won't accept it for myself, for my daughters, for women, or for any family in this country. And I know you won't, either. Step up today and commit to vote to protect our health and our future.

Copyright 2012 by Post Newsweek. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.