Teresa Heinz Kerry (search) has fond memories of her childhood in Mozambique and watching firsthand the work of her physician father.
It instilled a passion for health in the 65-year-old wife of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry (search).
Heinz Kerry has a daughter-in-law who is a doctor, a niece who is a professor of medicine and a stepdaughter in medical school.
On Thursday, Heinz Kerry toured a Seattle Cancer Care Alliance facility on the campus of the Fred Hutchinson area.
She spoke of a need to revamp the current health care system and to focus on prevention.
"A good future for medicine, I think, would be to do amazing things with prevention," she said. "Prevention and early detection are so important."
Heinz Kerry listened intently to every story of cancer struggle and survival and to ideas offered to improve the American health care system.
When visiting patients, Heinz Kerry spoke softly and asked specific questions. Mary Hermans agreed to meet with her despite being scheduled to have a painful bone-marrow biopsy Thursday afternoon "because I would support anyone who has a chance to beat Bush. And I like her."
Heinz Kerry was critical of the Bush administration's approach to health care and the current health care system. If changes are not made, she said, jobs will be lost from companies struggling with health care costs.
Tracey Schmitt, a Bush-Cheney campaign spokeswoman, responded that President Bush has led efforts to enact new health saving accounts to offer affordable insurance options for small businesses and individuals. In contrast, Schmitt contended, John Kerry "has consistently voted to block medical liability reforms" that would lower health care costs.
Cancer has affected Heinz Kerry personally. Last year, her husband was diagnosed with prostate cancer and was treated at Johns Hopkins University.
During the round table discussion, Heinz Kerry heard from local women on their battles with ovarian and breast cancer and of new studies being conducted at Fred Hutchinson and the University of Washington in hopes of halting cancer in its early stages.
Trish May, chief executive officer of Athena Partners, a bottled water company, told of losing her mother 10 years ago to ovarian cancer, then being diagnosed with breast cancer herself.
May overcame the disease and went on to help found Athena Partners, where 100 percent of net profits from bottled water sales goes to Northwest research and education initiatives on women's cancers.
Heinz Kerry was booked for a private fund-raiser Thursday night and was to be featured at a $50-a-ticket Democratic rally on Friday morning.