Central Florida breast cancer survivor & patient advocate pushes for change

ORLANDO, Fla. — When you think about the phrase “Breast Cancer Awareness Month,” you might associate it with pink ribbons, but it’s more than that for survivors.


Deborah Hausman is a breast cancer survivor and patient advocacy ambassador for Susan G. Komen Florida.

She said if she had not gone for her annual mammogram and then an ultrasound, she would be walking through life with an aggressive cancer.

“The mammogram is the first initial step, and it saved my life,” Deborah said.

She didn’t feel any symptoms, but the doctors found the cancer in the ultrasound.

Through her past volunteer work, Deborah learned to ask for an ultrasound screening every year she went for a mammogram since she had a history of being at high risk. Her mother, a 55-year survivor, was diagnosed with breast cancer when Deborah was ten years old. She dedicated 30 years to the American Cancer Society and helping others.

Deborah’s mother found out about her diagnosis through early detection. Deborah’s grandmother and aunt were also breast cancer survivors. Her aunt, a 40-year survivor, passed away shortly before our conversation.

“It was a pretty big loss for us,” she said. “You know, she was 90, which was amazing.”

Read: ‘Don’t wait’: Local woman shares what she’s learned after multiple breast cancer diagnoses

Changes over time

The dialogue surrounding breast cancer has also changed since Deborah saw her mother get involved in advocacy, starting with public discussions. It’s come a long way.

“I just know they didn’t even say the word breast at the time,” she said.

There’s also the importance of early detection and screening.

“Insurance companies are making those changes to allow women who are high-risk to have that imaging done at the age of 40, which is a recommended age now for high-risk patients,” Deborah said. “That’s changed.”

Watch: Q&A with AdventHealth: Breast Cancer Awareness Month

COVID-19 pandemic impacts

Deborah explained that the COVID-19 pandemic emphasized a drop in screenings, and the stages of breast cancer and the number of people diagnosed with it have increased significantly.

According to the American Cancer Society, 1.1 million fewer women received breast cancer screening between 2019 and 2021.

“It came back with a vengeance because the breast cancer incidence were higher,” Deborah said. “And the greater difference was that they were more aggressive because they were late stage.”

Along with a shift in screenings, she noticed a drop in participants in public events over the last few years – but they are returning.

“Without these foundations and these people who are out there, working and producing these opportunities for people, they won’t have someone to look at and to talk to and to reach out to when they are diagnosed,” Deborah said. “So, we have to keep that cycle running and helping to benefit our community.”

Read: Breast Cancer Awareness Month: 9 things to watch out for

Advocating in Washington D.C.

As part of Deborah’s involvement in the state, she is working with legislators to advocate for a bi-partisan bill related to diagnostic and supplemental imaging, including the insurance needed to cover screenings. Her goal is a common sense approach.

“Insurance carriers could save billions of dollars by early detection,” she said. “And women could save their lives by early detection.”

Deborah said those diagnostic tests could cost between $400 and $1,000 out of pocket. Many women get called back in after a mammogram, adding more financial stress.

“They, in many cases, have to choose between feeding their family or paying the electric bill or paying for that diagnostic imaging,” she said. “And then they delay and delay; it’s a problem.”

Supporting loved ones

As for how best to support survivors, Deborah said food is the number one need for breast cancer patients as they go through treatment. She delivers food to people throughout the year.

Deborah also said resources with the American Cancer Society, Susan G. Komen and Libby’s Legacies are good sources of information, as well as hospital support groups at AdventHealth, Orlando Health and Moffitt Cancer Center.

Her advice

Deborah hopes to make a positive difference in the fight against breast cancer. She receives calls regularly from people who are looking for advice.

“There’s an education and a personal relationship that a lot of these patients would rather see, and they’d rather talk to me because I’ve been there,” she said. “And I’m happy to help, and I do what I possibly can.”

While Deborah was fortunate to have been exposed to learning about breast cancer, it was a completely different feeling to receive her own diagnosis. She was prepared, and her procedure was straightforward. But she wasn’t sure how it would affect her life until it happened.

“I can first-hand tell you that that’s what helped me in my whole entire process because the fact that I personally knew what to expect completely removed that anxiety,” she said.

Read: Breast Cancer Awareness Month: How can you limit your risk?

After she became a survivor herself, Deborah put more effort into giving a sense of comfort to those who need it most.

“I think going through that experience with someone else just helps you to understand how it all works, and you know what to expect,” she said.

The number of women diagnosed with breast cancer every year and the people that she meets inspire her to be a beacon of hope.

“My whole objective is to let people know that I can do it, you can do it, we can all do this,” she said. “And there are people who are around you that will help you to achieve this goal of surviving cancer. And that’s our goal, to live in a world without cancer.”

Read: Orlando Hard Rock Hotel lights up pink in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month

When it comes to the concern of communicating with doctors, Deborah understands where people are coming from but also knows prolonging the conversation would make it worse.

“They need to have that conversation because it’s their body, and, you know, they have the possibility of saving their own life right then and there,” she said. “It did for me.”

Her biggest message to people who are afraid to get a mammogram or receive a cancer diagnosis is to understand there are support systems, including the people in your life when you advocate for yourself.

“There are people out to help, so don’t fear it,” Deborah said.

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