A Letter to Secretary Sylvia Burwell

Dear Secretary Burwell,

I enjoyed reading your bio on the HHS.gov website because I found we have a few things in common and I value human connections.

  • We are both passionate about ensuring that individuals lead healthy and productive lives. Your outreach is far greater than mine and I am grateful for your passion and mission. My outreach, smaller though no less important, is to breast cancer patients who have been faced with a mastectomy.
  • We are both former Seattle residents. As former President of the Global Development Program for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation you focused your efforts again on health.  I was an educator in Seattle at Sacred Heart School in Bellevue and had a brief opportunity to meet Melinda Gates when she visited our school and came into my classroom.  I was struck by her unpretentious manner and was humbled to speak to her and meet her that day. I raise this occasion only to point out to you that as women I stand firm in the belief that we can make a difference with our voice and through our passion.
  • You are a second Second-generation Greek-American. I am not, but I am proud to say that my breast reconstruction surgeon is Greek and lives Philotimo! My life has returned to purpose, outreach and passion for educating women about their options for breast reconstruction because of his skill and compassion in treating women who are faced with mastectomies.  Without the invitation from his team at PRMA to become a volunteer patient advocate I would not be writing this letter to you today.  They have been fervent supporters of this bill.

I admittedly, am not familiar with the political process although I have read much about it to try and understand it. I do, however, have a very deep interest in doing what I can to pass The Breast Cancer Education Act. It is not a law yet but only a bill that has been introduced twice, once in 2012 and again in 2013. The wording of the bill, like many, has changed historically after studies and research updated it to align to the current needs of the public. The bill now focuses on raising awareness especially to patients who are members of racial and ethnic minority groups, in particular for African-Americans, Hispanics, and Asian-Americans.

The American Society of Plastic Surgeons has long been a supporter of this bill.  Additionally, Breast Reconstruction Awareness Day USA invites affiliates to join in educating women about their reconstruction options.  But now, I feel like a patient voice should be heard and thus my focus in contacting you about passing this bill into law.

Without quoting various changes in the bill, referencing evidence based research to support the changes in the bill, or listing the supporting committees, I am writing to you at this time because you are conferring with one of the aforementioned groups, notably Asian Americans this week, May 12, 2015, at The AAPI summit.  My concern is that within this particular ethnic group of women there are disparities from diagnosis through treatment as is reported in an article from Breast Cancer Action.  There is an opportunity for discussion among peers at the summit and I encourage and invite each of you to address these disparities.  Together we can make a change to educate and inform.  The Breast Cancer Education Act will give all women a choice to live beyond the diagnosis.

I am a life-long educator. I have had breast cancer twice and most recently completed breast reconstruction after a double mastectomy in 2014. I was fortunate to be told about my reconstruction options from my informed breast surgeon the day I was diagnosed the second time and knew I would be facing a mastectomy. Now, my passion is to see other women have the same fortune, the same choice through education that I did.

The only way this will happen is if we pass the Breast Cancer Education Act into law. It will give us the opportunity to finally reach everyone through our health care professionals by making them the front line of information to all women, across all race and ethnicity.  Every woman has the right to know their breast reconstruction options in order to return to productive lives after a cancer diagnosis.

holding handsPlease help me in this effort, Secretary Burwell, and I pledge to continue to do what I can to educate and inform other women. It is right and fair that we move forward with this bill so that it will formally become law. This is the time when research, surgery and health care support has advanced exponentially and has the prospective to educate and empower those who need it most.

I am a voice, an individual, and supporter of educating women about their breast reconstruction options. I am a voice, a voice with passion and experience in the benefits of knowing the value of returning to a productive and purposeful life after being informed of my options for breast reconstruction following a mastectomy. Help me in a team effort to pass the Breast Cancer Education Act into law so the outreach continues on a broader basis.


Terri Coutee

Congress building


References made to my surgical group, surgeon and healthcare team are made because they are aligned with my values and met my criterion after I did research of their practices and success rates. Any other healthcare provider that displays the same skill, compassion education and outreach to patients will be given consideration and recognition on this website.  The information contained on this website is not a substitute for or should be construed as medical advice. Please consult a licensed physician for medical advice.