Grand Rapids—Former First Lady Betty Ford can add another honor to her long list of accomplishments.
The Grand Rapids native is this year's recipient for the annual Hillman Award, honoring people whose accomplishments have greatly improved health care for West Michigan.
The award comes 36 years after Ford, first lady at the time, shocked the nation by openly talking about her breast cancer diagnosis. Prior to the her 1974 battle with the disease, discussing breast cancer had been a taboo topic.
Wednesday, her son Steve accepted the Hillman Award for his 92-year-old mother.
After surviving breast cancer,Ford was instrumental in establishing the Betty Ford Diagnostic Center at Spectrum Health's Lemmen-Holton Cancer Pavilion. The facility does 50,000 mammograms each year and provides another 50,000 diagnostic services geared toward women and breast cancer detection.
But Ford battled more than just breast cancer. She also fought her own demons with drugs and alcohol addiction. She's spent most of her life ever since battling the diseases to help others.
"Brest cancer for woman was a closet disease. They didn't talk about it. And here the first lady of the county was going to be transparent and show that women didn't need to be ashamed of this. And then years later she did the same thing with alcoholism," said Steve Ford.
Award sponsors said it was Ford's openness to talk about her own struggles with disease that really eliminated the stigmas. Ford's ability to face alcoholism and breast cancer head-on paved the way for countless others to do the same.