For women’s health’s sake: Wasserman Schultz speaks the truth; Austin stretches

Few people knew a little more than a month ago that Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) would become one of Congress’s most credible voices on women’s health issues.

But that was before she revealed her secret battle with breast cancer, a story she retold Monday as part of a Capitol Hill event celebrating successes in women’s health policy.

ADVERTISEMENT
“I was … fortunate to be raised to believe that nothing is more important than my health,” Wasserman Schultz told a lunch audience of more than 100 people. “I was also taught to speak up for myself — which I do on occasion.”

The congresswoman shocked colleagues and the media last month when she revealed that she underwent seven surgeries in 2008 to remove the cancer, all while balancing her legislative duties, familial commitments and major leadership role in the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s “Red-to-Blue” program. She told very few confidants and family members — even leaving her three children in the dark — until her doctors gave her a clean bill of health.

Wasserman Schultz spent the first few days after the revelation rehashing her story and filling in the details, but since then she has been all business. She said Monday that the breast cancer awareness and education bill she introduced in the wake of her experience now has 266 sponsors.

The Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues, the Health and Human Services Department’s (HHS) Office on Women’s Health and Women’s Policy Inc. had three reasons to call on a wide range of speakers, from Wasserman Schultz to fitness guru Denise Austin, for words of inspiration: The 10-year anniversary of the government website www.womenshealth.gov; the May 10 start of the 10th annual National Women’s Health Week; and the November publication of the HHS health reference book, The Healthy Woman: A Complete Guide for All the Ages.

Austin took a different tack in trying to inspire a roomful of Washington professionals to look after their health.

“Stretch your arms up,” the exercise mogul barked, leading the group in a series of movements. “Stomach in! The goal here is lengthen your spine.”

The 52-year-old member of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports preached the holy trinity of activity — cardiovascular exercise, strength training and stretching — and made an example of a few ways she incorporates fitness into her daily routine.

“When I blow-dry my hair, I’m doing leg squats,” she said. “When I’m cooking my kids’ toast in the morning, I do pushups on the kitchen counter.”

Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), a vice chairwoman of the women’s caucus, Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper (D-Pa.) and former Reps. Pat Schroeder (D-Colo.) and Connie Morella (R-Md.) stretched and strained with the other audience members.

“Our caucus is the largest bipartisan caucus in Congress,” Moore told attendees. “And our members, of course, run the gamut of the political spectrum, and obviously that can lead to a pretty lively debate. But there’s absolutely no debate on the importance of the thing that makes us different and makes us unique, and that is women’s health.”