Rose Kushner

(1929 - 1990)

Rose Kushner  was born in Baltimore on June 22, 1929. Today, she is most widely recognized as the woman who helped end radical mastectomy as the only treatment choice for women with breast cancer.

When Rose Kushner discovered her breast cancer in 1974, she single-mindedly began her crusade. She refused to accept the "one step" radical mastectomy as the only available course of treatment. At that time, a woman with a lump in her breast would be anesthetized and the lump removed for biopsy; if it was malignant, the breast would be removed. Only upon awakening from the anesthesia would the patient learn that she had lost a breast. Ms. Kushner believed that women needed time after a cancer diagnosis to find the best surgeon and to adjust to the changes in their bodies. Rose fought against the one-step procedure. After eighteen telephone calls, she found a general surgeon to remove her lump, and after it proved malignant, she had a cancer specialist remove her breast.

Rose Kushner used her talents as a psychologist, teacher, investigative reporter, and medical writer to work tirelessly as an advocate for breast cancer patients. She became the leading lay expert on breast cancer and was responsible for affecting changes in laws and medical practices and giving alternatives to patients. Ms. Kushner is credited as the single most important person to influence the elimination of the "one step" radical mastectomy in the treatment of breast cancer. Dr. Bruce Cabner of the National Cancer Institute has commented that, although there was medical evidence that the one-step procedure was not advisable, he doubted that the public would have accepted that evidence, or would have known about it, if Rose Kushner had not been persistent. Later, Ms. Kushner advocated the increased use of lumpectomy - removal of the malignant lump only.

Rose Kushner influenced the introduction of a successful Congressional bill authorizing medicare coverage for screening mammograms. Although repealed in November 1989, the law was reinstated in January 1991. According to Senator Barbara Mikulski, the bill should serve as, "a memorial to Rose Kushner and all the women who have died from a cancer that might well have been prevented. As Senator Mikulski commented, " No longer do older women on limited incomes have to experience the devastating effects of breast cancer simply because she could not
afford the screening procedure.

Ms. Kushner authored seven books on breast cancer. Her best known book is titled "Alternatives: New Developments in the War on Breast Cancer." Her books and work earned her an international reputation and a presidential appointment to the National Cancer Advisory Board.

When Rose Kushner lost her own battle with breast cancer, Margaret Mason of The Washington Post wrote, "She gave us our voice. And, now we cannot be quiet, not when someone dies of breast cancer every 13 minutes in the U.S. And, not when we know that while 57,000 men died in combat in the Vietnam War, during that same 10 year period, 330,000 women died of breast cancer."

Rose Kushner was truly an ally and an inspiration to all women. She was the essence of the spirit of keeping on, not giving up, regardless of what life hands you.   

© Copyright Maryland State Archives, 2001