“Betty Ford Blip”

President Gerald R. Ford, Hugh Davis, and Bob Hope visiting First Lady Betty Ford at the Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland during her recovery from breast cancer surgery on October 5, 1974.
A1223-20A / NAID: 7140613
Courtesy Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library

In late September 1974, during a routine physical examination, Mrs. Ford’s doctor discovered a lump in her right breast.  Within days, the First Lady underwent a surgical biopsy which determined that the lump was malignant, and a radical mastectomy was performed.  Mrs. Ford chose to go public with her plight early on, destigmatizing breast cancer during a time when the word “breast” was little used in social settings.  

Sheila R. Weidenfeld Files, Daily Events Files, Box 2, Folder: “9/27/74 – Breast Surgery (1).”
NAID: 1489334
Courtesy Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library

Shortly afterward, there was an uptick in the number of check ups women sought across the country – accredited to Mrs. Ford.  It was even called the “Betty Ford Blip.”  Sane E. Brady reported in the New York Times on October 6, 1974, that “The publicity surrounding Betty Ford’s surgery for breast cancer has motivated thousands of women around the country to seek appointments at free breast cancer detection centers.”

Mrs. Ford wrote in her memoir, The Times of My Life, about her experience and the support she received from around the country.  “Letters, cards, prayers (eventually fifty thousand pieces of mail were counted).  There was so much mail some of my friends set up an answering service, and we finally had to have a card printed extending appreciation to each person who’d remembered me.”  

These are just a few examples of the correspondence Mrs. Ford received regarding her surgery and diagnosis, which are held at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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Author: Brooke Clement