The first lady is encouraging women to undergo routine health screenings in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month

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Jill Biden
Jill Biden
| Credit: PBS News Hour

Jill Biden is opening up again about how breast cancer has affected her life and her friendships.

Speaking to staff at the Medical University of South Carolina Monday, the first lady, 70, said that, in 1993, four of her friends were diagnosed with breast cancer — and one did not make it.

"[In 1993], four of my close friends were diagnosed with breast cancer. One of them did not survive," said Dr. Biden, clad in a bright yellow top and skirt, along with a silk face mask. "And I vowed then that, as an educator, I had to do something."

She added that she started the Biden Breast Health Initiative after the diagnosis of her friends "to teach young women about the importance of good breast health — to create awareness of how important early detection is."

The first lady's remarks came after one patient told those gathered at the event that she is living with metastatic breast cancer after being diagnosed in 2012.

"Too many women, particularly Black women, are living with breast cancer," the woman said, according to reporters in attendance.

Breast cancer affects one of eight women in the United States, which has witnessed a sharp decline in health screenings due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Monday, Biden said: "Our administration is committed, because during this pandemic we've lost so many screenings. We're down 10 million. We've got to make it up, whether it's breast cancer, prostate cancer, colonoscopies — whatever it is, we've got to continue to keep getting the word out, creating awareness."

Biden's visit to the medical center coincided with Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Earlier this month, she recorded a PSA as part of Lifetime's Stop Breast Cancer for Life campaign. The spot will run on air as well as on the network's social media channels.

"Take a moment to put your health first," she says in the PSA. "Get your mammogram. It might save your life. And nothing on your to-do list is more important than that."

Health has a been a top focus of the first lady's travels. She attended a listening session on Sunday at a Saginaw Chippewa tribe academy in Michigan, where she discussed the mental health of children and young adults.

Biden — an English professor at a community college — said that she's seen in her own classroom how the pandemic has impacted the lives of students of all ages.

"I've seen that in my own classroom," she said. "Many of them have lost relatives to COVID. I wanted to come see this program, because I said to my staff, 'What are we going to help the teachers?' We want to do the right thing by our students and by our families."

At the Sunday listening event, Biden asked staff from Project AWARE, a program being utilized at the Saginaw Chippewa Academy  to detail what they are doing to help students cope with loss spurred by the pandemic.

According to reporters, staffers said students are provided group therapy sessions with "calming corners" in the classroom to take mental health breaks

"Our mental health problem is so great and the needs are so great, especially after this pandemic," she said. "I knew Joe would see that and come up with this plan to give more money to mental health, and that's what he pledged to do. That's what gives me hope — that our nation is starting to heal."