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How Celebs Help Eradicate The Breast Cancer Taboo

The "C" word. That's what my mom calls cancer.

Like it or not, there's still a taboo when it comes to cancer, especially the forms that affect private body parts like the breasts. Ellen Leopold, author of "A Darker Ribbon,wrote in her introduction that literature on breast cancer pales in comparison to the presence the cancer has in our society. (Video via Cancer Treatment Centers of America)

It’s not easy or fun to discuss — and those hurdles mean women might not be aware of things like treatment options, early detection methods and research.

Over the years, the taboo has been somewhat lifted from breast cancer. And that's partly due to one group who broke that barrier with their honesty: public figures. (Video via Cancer Treatment Centers of America)

Shirley Temple Black is credited with being one of the first women to speak publicly about her diagnosis in 1972. Back then, doctors would tell women they were getting a biopsy when they were actually planning a mastectomy.

The former child star was furious with this and became the first public figure to write about her experience with cancer in a magazine saying, "The doctor can make the incision; I'll make the decision."

Then came first lady Betty Ford, who was diagnosed in 1974 after a routine checkup. It's her diagnosis that influenced the vice president-designates wife, Happy Rockefeller, to do a self-examination — where she found a lump and was subsequently diagnosed.

These women helped start a trend of speaking publicly and honestly about their cancer fights, allowing people to relate to their struggle. After all, diseases are something anyone — regardless of race, social status or gender — can encounter. 

The strongest recent impact from a public figure's story came from Angelina Jolie. A recent study found her New York Times op-ed helped one in five people who read it "deal more intensively with the topic." It raised awareness that breast reconstruction can be done during a mastectomy by over 19 percent

Amy Robach's on-air mammogram during "Good Morning America's" 2014 October Pink Initiative made her diagnosis a discovery for the rest of the country at the same time. (Video via ABC)

"I had been asked if I'd get one on television to demystify it for anyone who might be nervous. ... It was for everyone, but it also turned out to be for me," Robach recalled a year later.

Robach continued to share her story with the country, including when she cut her hair short during chemo. (Video via ABC)

"I want to say that I had something to do with how I look, not the cancer," she said.

And that transparency in her battle with the millions of GMA fans lead one fan to discover her own battle with the cancer. 

"I had been driving around with my mammogram prescription in my car for a year when I heard you tell your story on GMA. I booked my mammogram that morning, had a mammogram two days later, a biopsy the next day, and learned I had cancer the next day," Deb Greig said.

These are just four people who have made major differences in people’s lives, in some cases saving them, just by speaking out. When celebrities and public figures share their stories, it helps lift the taboo and encourages people to take control of their own health.

This video includes images from Getty Images.

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