Again, life surprises me. Never did I think a celebrity would inspire me to write a blog post, but it has indeed happened. Perhaps you have already guessed that I am going to talk about Angelina Jolie’s decision to have a prophylactic double mastectomy.
My first reaction to this entertainment news was shock. I was surprised to say the least, that a celebrity who’s entire persona seems to revolve around her physical beauty, would make such a choice. I had to ponder for awhile before I could decide exactly how I felt about it. Many women on my Stage IV Breast Cancer discussion board were less than impressed with her decision. They started making comments such as “She has no clue what stage IV is like.” “Why doesn’t she use her power and money to make people aware of the need for research?” “She has so much money, she can grow new ones!” “She is obviously scared and making decisions based on fear is never good!” Now at first, I thought some of these comments had some merit, but the more I thought about it, the more I rejected the idea of rushing to judgement.
One of the many skills I teach is the ability to compare and contrast. So let’s do a little compare/contrast between myself and Angelina Jolie…….trust me……..there is a point! Let’s start with differences, because, well, honestly there are A LOT more differences. Angelina makes more money for one film than I will probably earn in my entire life. Angelina is recognized worlwide for her roles in films and some of my own neighbors still probably don’t know my name. The red carpet has been rolled out in front of Miss Jolie probably more times than she can count. The only things rolled out in front of me are to do lists, grocery lists, and the occasional roll of toilet paper……thanks to my cat. Angelina is a favorite topic of tabloids, entertainment gossip magazines, and has been photographed by the paparazzi in any and every capacity. My picture has been published in about 24 or so yearbooks over the years, but that’s about it. I could go on and on with the differences, for there are many!
But, let’s talk about similarities! Don’t laugh……there are actually a few! Angelina and I both have defective genes that make us prone to breast cancer. Angelina’s gene is recognized by the medical community and even has a name. BRCA 1 and 2 are known genetic mutations that drastically increase a women’s chances of getting breast and/or ovarian cancer. I was tested for both of these mutations, but the tests were negative. Still, very few people would call my cancer and my family history a coincidence. It is quite obviously genetic, however, the defect in my DNA has yet to be discovered and/or named.
Similarity number two: We have both experienced the pain of watching women we love pass away too soon from cruel and painful diseases. Angelina lost her mother in 2007 to ovarian cancer and just recently lost her aunt to breast cancer. I lost my aunt Susan (my mother’s twin sister) to breast cancer in 1996 and lost my aunt Barbara to breast cancer in 2009. They were ages 52 and 68. I have also watched my mother go through treatment for the disease as well. Luckily and thankfully, she is still with me.
Lastly, Angelina and I both have a desperate desire to live and be here for our children. I know she has 6 and I have 1. But regardless of how many children you have, I believe your entire soul goes into loving them, regardless of how many there are.
So, because of our similarities, I have to come to defend her and her decision. As far as not knowing what stage IV is like, I really can’t hold that against her. Of course she doesn’t know, and really, who in their right mind would want too? Personally, I have never been hit over the head with a baseball bat, but I don’t believe I have to personally experience it to know that I don’t want it to happen.
Could she use her power and money to bring about more actual scientific research aimed at curing breast cancer? Sure she could. And so could Donald Trump, Warren Buffet, and Bill Gates. But nobody is breathing down their necks about not supporting our cause. Everyone has their causes and charities and they get to decide who and what to support. Perhaps Angelina’s decision will actually lead to more research for a cure. It is too early to tell.
As far as “growing new ones” we all know that this is not possible. And I am fairly certain that regardless of how much money you have, it isn’t any less physically or emotionally difficult to go through surgery and electively cut off healthy body parts. Disliking someone for having money, fame, attention, etc, isn’t any different than disliking someone because they don’t.
I do agree that she made her decision out of fear. Who wouldn’t be afraid of this disease? Especially if the doctors tell you that you have an 87% increased chance of getting this disease because of your genetic defect. I too would be scared! And if I had that information knowing then what I know now, I would make the same decision.
So what is it that I know now that I didn’t 15 years ago? I know that young women CAN get breast cancer. I know that 30% of women who get early stage breast cancer will eventually become stage IV. I know that there is NO CURE once you become stage IV. I know that treatments for the disease are horrid, sickening, barbaric, poisonous drugs and procedures that require a trip to hell and back to survive. I know that breast cancer does not discriminate and will strike young, old, male, female, sick, healthy, rich, poor, famous and unknown. I know that if I had a choice, I would go through every surgical procedure again in order to avoid one more dose of chemotherapy. Yes, it is THAT bad. Most importantly, I know that life is a precious gift that can be taken away at any point.
I believe that Angelina made a very brave and admirable decision. I don’t suggest that a woman without family history should go running to the operating room, but I can find no reason to think that she made the wrong choice. She is choosing to exercise what little control she has over a bad situation. She is choosing to put life before beauty. She is choosing to put her children before her career and her “sex symbol” image.
Now, we just need to get to the point where such decisions aren’t necessary. If we had a cure, women wouldn’t have to ponder these impossible dilemmas. If we had a cure, it wouldn’t be necessary to cut off healthy body parts. If we had a cure, children wouldn’t have to lose their mothers to this cruel disease.