Published Dec 8, 2021
“It can happen to you.”
Those are the cautionary words from Florida First Lady Casey DeSantis, who is currently battling breast cancer.
DeSantis, who is married to Florida Governor Ron Desantis spoke at the Moffitt Cancer Center Tuesday about how her life has changed since her diagnosis. In her appearance, she announced that her husband plans to boost Florida’s funding for cancer research and screening by 60% in his new budget.
This is an issue of personal concern for the First Lady, and she gave a warning speaking from experience: “It can happen to you. It can happen to anybody and you save yourself so much pain and anguish if you go in early and you get those screenings.”
But aside from this pain and anguish, DeSantis acknowledged that her diagnosis has allowed her to connect with many people who have struggled just like she has: “Ever since my cancer diagnosis, the amount of people who have come up to me and have said they know somebody who has been impacted by cancer, and what it’s done to their family…I can’t even begin to tell you the number of people and their heartfelt stories.”
In October, DeSantis revealed that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. She didn’t initially experience any symptoms, but a vague sense of uneasiness drove her to schedule a visit with her OB-GYN.
“Internally something was telling me that something wasn’t right,” she said.
Her doctor didn’t see any cause for concern, but DeSantis couldn’t shake her suspicion. A month later, she called in again requesting a mammogram. This time, her concerns were confirmed—she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
The American College of Radiology Guidelines recommends women get annual mammograms to screen for breast cancer beginning at age 40.
“I was always one of those people that thought ‘it’ll never happen to me.’ You always think it happens to somebody else until it does happen to you and then you’re looking at yourself,” DeSantis said.
With the hope of spreading awareness and encouraging other cancer fighters like her, DeSantis has spoken openly about her breast cancer journey—an experience that can be particularly challenging for people living in the public eye.
She ended her announcement with a message of hope: “Just never give up. Don’t quit. Just keep fighting. And just ‘cause you get some bad news doesn’t mean you need to crawl into a hole and a tunnel and pull the wool over your head – get out and do as much as you humanly can and try to make a difference and do what you know in your heart is right,” she said.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Breast cancer mostly occurs among older women, but it’s possible for women under the age of 45 — like Casey DeSantis — to be diagnosed with this type of cancer. About 9% of all new breast cancer cases in the U.S. are found in women younger than 45.
But in some ways, a diagnosis for a younger woman can often be even more devastating, Dr. Ann Partridge, an oncologist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, tells SurvivorNet in a previous interview. This is because the cancer is likely to be a more aggressive form of the disease and also at an advanced stage, as screening for younger women is not standard.
Women aged 45 and 54 should have annual mammograms; women with a history of breast cancer in their families should begin screening even earlier.
In an earlier interview, Dr. Connie Lehman, the chief of the Breast Imaging Division at Massachusetts General Hospital, emphasized how mammograms save lives. She says, “If you haven’t gone through menopause yet, I think it’s essential that you have a mammogram every year. We know that cancers grow more rapidly in our younger patients, and having that annual mammogram can be lifesaving.”
There is wide consensus that women should have annual mammograms between the ages of 45 and 54. Learn more from our expert, Dr. Connie Lehman.
Contributing: SurvivorNet staff