When a public figure is diagnosed with a major health problem, it tends to bring more focus on that issue and how the individual responds to the crisis.

Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman is facing surgery and radiation for treatment of breast cancer. She was diagnosed in August.

Ann Veneman is one of the hardest working public servants you'll find. Her constituency during her long, successful career has been farmers and ranchers. Her strength has been trade and marketing. She traveled the globe for California farmers and ranchers when she headed California's Department of Food and Agriculture, promoting California products and gaining new customers.

She has worked even harder for all of American farmers as U.S. secretary of Agriculture. She long ago passed beyond the novelty of being the first woman secretary of Agriculture. She makes daily her mark as a tireless advocate for American agriculture. When she decides to step down from her post, her record of achievement will rank with the best who have served as Agriculture secretary.

However, she has no intention of stepping down now as she faces the cancer. In telling colleagues of her diagnosis, she made it plain she will continue to “fully…stay engaged in my work.” The only thing that will change during her treatments is that she won't be traveling.

She expects to re-board planes as an ambassador for American agriculture in the future, vowing that she is confident the breast cancer will be cured.

The 53-year-old Modesto native has been inundated with support from friends and strangers alike.

Her boss, President George W. Bush, said he appreciated her courage and was proud of her courage. “I knew I picked an extraordinary person when I named her to run the Department of Agriculture. I didn't realize I was going to pick an heroic figure as well.”

She is also discovering that many have been in her place before and have overcome cancer. Today there are few families that have not encountered cancer in their immediate or extended families.

Even as Veneman faces perhaps the biggest challenge of her life, she continues to show leadership. She was quick to recognize that her position and her health crisis is an opportunity to bring more focus and attention on breast cancer, a killer of more than 40,000 American women each year.

She also teaches us all another valuable lesson. Regardless of how busy we may become, never neglect regular physical exams and those all important cancer screenings.

Whether it is a regular mammogram for women or testing for prostrate cancer or regular blood tests, you are never too busy to take care of yourself. If one of the busiest women in America can take time for regular checkups, so can you.

Madam Secretary, all Californians will be praying for you and wish you a very speedy recovery.

e-mail: hcline@primediabusiness.com