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Angelina Jolie’s Prophylactic Bilateral Mastectomy – If She & I Could Chat

Lots of people (too many?) seem eager to chime in about Angelina Jolie’s revelation regarding her recent decision to undergo a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy. Can you stand to read one more thing? I hope so.

Isn’t it amazing the buzz this story has generated? Even more amazing is the fact so many are judging her decision. 

I’ve been reading a few posts and articles with some rather negative comments about Ms. Jolie’s decision. Reading them made me wonder how many of those commenters have witnessed a loved one dying from cancer. It made me wonder how many of those commenters are BRCA+.

I have and I am.

My friend Jackie who blogs at From Zero to Mastectomy had this to say to those judgmental types, “Shut. The. F***. Up.”

You tell ’em, Jackie.

Of course as a celebrity icon, Ms. Jolie opened herself up to criticism as well as praise when she decided to go public, but only to a point.

Our society is obsessed with celebrities. Our society is obsessed with breasts. And in a sense, our society is obsessed with breast cancer. Put all these obsessions together and well… the unstoppable media frenzy is set in motion until the next big story pops.

I completely support Ms. Jolie’s difficult and very personal decision. I commend her for speaking out about it. Like me (wow, I never thought I’d be able to say Angelina Jolie and I have something in common), she carries a BRCA gene mutation, though not the same one as mine. I’m BRCA2 positive, she’s BRCA1.

Ms. Jolie is an advocate and humanitarian in her own right, so it’s not so surprising to me she decided to go public. She’s never been afraid to do things her way which, of course, is easier when you’re rich, beautiful and famous.

Still, she’s just a woman; one with a known hereditary risk factor. She’s a mother. She’s a wife. She’s a daughter who has witnessed her mother dying from cancer. I know what that’s like. So do too many others. Witnessing such a thing changes you. Finding out you are BRCA positive does too.

Overall, I felt Ms. Jolie’s New York Times piece was well written and certainly from her heart.

Was it perfect? Of course not, but what article is?

I was a bit concerned that some women, especially those who do carry a similar mutation, might feel pressured to make the same choice. There are other options.

But in the end, I have confidence that most BRCA+ women will choose wisely.

Women do not need others telling them what to do or not do with their bodies. 

I did feel Ms. Jolie seemed to sweep away the ovarian cancer risk a bit too briskly in her article, possibly giving a wrong impression regarding this serious potential risk. From my experience, the organs down under are often recommended to be the “best first things to go.” But she is young and maybe even planning more children, so this might be why other prophylactic procedures are on the back burner for now.

The bottom line is Ms. Jolie and her doctors made the best decisions for her.

The thing that bothered me most about her article was that the surgery itself was made to sound a bit too easy. In her article Ms. Jolie stated she was back to work within days after her surgery. Most of us live in the real world and getting back to work in a few days after such surgery is a stretch.

Still, it was a gutsy piece and a gusty announcement. Kudos to Angelina.

It’s worth stating that it’s important to remember ordinary women face these dilemmas and decisions every day. Their stories matter too.

As Marie, friend and fellow blogger at Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer, so eloquently stated:

While I am glad that Jolie’s piece has raised awareness and stimulated discussion, it is also important that we balance the discussion with facts and also heed the stories of the ordinary women who have been sharing their experiences online for much longer. The celebrity factor has raised the discussion to the consciousness of the Twitter-sphere today, but the fleeting nature of celebrity news means something else will take its place tomorrow. Meanwhile, for thousands of women and men across the world who have been affected by cancer, the issues will continue to be debated and discussed every day. Don’t forget their stories too!

Well said, Marie.

Ultimately, Ms. Jolie’s story is just that, her story. She is not responsible for decisions others do or do not make.

We are all responsible for our own decisions  and actions regarding our medical care; but at the same time, we all need and deserve access to quality information, guidance and care in order to be responsible. Disparity is still a problem for many. Not everyone has access to the quality of care Ms. Jolie had and will continue to have.

Does this disparity bother you? It bothers me.

If I had a chance to chat with Ms. Jolie now that we are both members of this BRCA+ sisterhood, I would ask her to please keep on speaking out on behalf of all those other women who do not have adequate insurance, or any insurance at all with which to cover the cost of genetic testing, genetic counseling and medical procedures they might choose to take following such testing. I cannot forget about them. I hope she can’t either.

I would ask her to contemplate carefully what breast/ovarian cancer charitable organization(s) she might choose to partner with. I would ask her to be wary of pink ribbons and all that they are ‘tied up” with.

Most importantly, I would say I’m sorry you lost your mother to ovarian cancer. I’m sorry your children will miss knowing their grandmother. I understand why you made the decision you made. I support you and appreciate that you are reaching out and trying to make a difference.

I would say thank you for sharing; it matters that you did.

It always does.

Do you have thoughts or opinions about this story to share?

Do you believe prophylactic surgeries are too extreme? 

If you were faced with such a decision, what might you do?

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Angelina Jolie's Prophylactic Bilateral Mastectomy, If She & I Could Chat

 

 

 

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Shannon

Tuesday 10th of October 2017

HBOC syndrome deserves more attention. With advances in genetic testing I think that the general public needs to be made more aware of BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations - risk factors, genetic counseling, the whole deal. I bet most people have never even heard of HBOC. These 4 letters of the alphabet keep me up at night. I watch my beautiful daughters' bodies develop just as they're supposed to at ages 12 and 14 and the next thought that crosses my mind is at what age they might have to face losing their breasts. I was 39, their grandmother: 57, their great-grandmother: 44. How many years until the nightmare begins?

Basschick

Wednesday 9th of March 2016

Having just been diagnosed with breast cancer which will require a double mastectomy I have heard Angelina Jolie's name many times in the last couple of weeks. While I do believe it's both admirable and important that she has shared her story, I wish that it would be acknowledged somewhere that not all women have the option of immediate reconstruction, if at all. She's a pretty gutsy gal, though, and I'm guessing that she would have had her breasts removed even if it meant 'going flat', and she would have been equally as public about it. Please know that I'm not saying that having reconstruction is an easier option than 'going flat'. I know that none of the options are easy.

Thank-you for your blog...I've just happened upon it, and just started reading it, and I'm pretty sure I'm going to find it helpful!!

Nancy

Wednesday 9th of March 2016

Basschick, I'm sorry to hear about your diagnosis. None of this stuff is easy. That's for sure. I'm glad you found my blog and I hope you do find it to be helpful. Good luck with everything and thank you for sharing.

Eileen@womaninthehat

Friday 27th of March 2015

I haven't reacted or acted in the same way when finding out I was BRCA-2 positive, but the choices we make are personal and dependent on many variables. I would never judge this highly personal decision, especially with her family history. Mostly, I applaud Jolie for using her celebrity platform for good in creating awareness, as she has often done.

Nancy

Friday 27th of March 2015

Eileen, I agree, the choices are personal and dependent on many variables. Like you, I applaud Ms. Jolie for using her platform for good.

Elizabeth

Sunday 16th of February 2014

Great article! I concur with everything you said, and how you said it. I don't mean to imply that I'm big on concurring! I DO mean to say that this was a really well-written article, and . . . I guess I'm feeling a "concur-purr." I'm glad you wrote it, and I'm glad I read it!

Nancy

Monday 17th of February 2014

Elizabeth, Well thank you for concurring!

Elizabeth

Tuesday 23rd of July 2013

Last year, I went through chemo, mastectomy, and radiation. My youngest daughter came to me during that time and told me that after she has had children (she's still a single college student), maybe in her 30s, she was wondering if a doctor could "hollow out" her breasts and put a "filler" in so she would never have to go through what I was going through. Without realizing it, she was describing what Angelina Jolie had done, and this was last year before Miss Jolie had her surgery. Found out my older daughter was wondering about this, too. Why would two beautiful intelligent young ladies even think that way? Because they know I'm the third generation in a row to get breast cancer and they don't want to be the fourth. Our family so understands why Miss Jolie made this choice.

Nancy

Tuesday 23rd of July 2013

Elizabeth, I'm sorry your daughters have to think of these things. Mine does too. It's our reality and therefore theirs as well isn't it? Thank you for sharing.

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