Angelina Jolie Vs. Cancer: Proactive Double Mastectomy

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Although I used to follow news about Angelina Jolie and her life choices on a daily basis (read nearly obsessive), I was really surprised by the news of her double mastectomy. My initial reaction was stunned: I was stunned. Because I thought the worse had happened and she discovered she suffered from breast cancer. As I remembered her own mother died from cancer a couple of years back and these types of cancer are usually hereditary (doctors recommend that if the mother had breast cancer, the daughter has to start doing regular checkups far earlier than usual because this is, sadly, a type of cancer that runs in the family).

But no. Angelina Jolie had a double mastectomy as a preventive measure! I passed from stunned to shocked. Hit the jump to understand why I reacted the way I did!

Angelina Jolie double mastectomy medical center

I don’t know if you’re aware of the latest studies related to breast cancer and the proactive attitude towards this kind of affection, but while everyone and their dog will recommend you start doing your regular breast cancer check-ups after you’ve joyfully celebrated your 35th birthday (earlier in cases with family history), it appears that the lumps discovered and surgically removed as a ‘proactive’ measure would have evolved into a full fledged breast cancer in less than 30% of the cases.

Angelina Jolie and her mother

Sure, Angelina Jolie said she had a high risk of developing this form of cancer – close to 90% – as mutations of the BRCA1 gene were discovered in her blood (Breast Cancer Susceptibility Genes) so she was most likely to live with the breast cancer anxiety for the rest of her days. Would she have really developed this type of cancer? Studies say that an average 65% of those who have the genes usually develop it. How much does it cost to determine if you have the gene or not? more than $3,000 in the US, as Angelina herself said in a lengthy piece published in the NY Times where she came public with her “medical choice’ as she called it.

I am not in the position to argue the just measure of her decision, I do, however, think that she has gone through a very dramatic and intense process, having removed her natural breasts and replaced them with implants. I’m certain her decision was made because of her love for her late mother and for her children, so they won’t have to suffer the loss she had to go through. But… I’m coming with this before you as a woman, a wife, a mother, a daughter. With family history. What’s there to do. Honestly? On one hand, I think Angelina was really brave. It was in her means, she went straight on and did it. Brave. Yes. Definitely. Would I do it? I sincerely don’t know how to answer to that. I would definitely lose sleep and peace of mind over it, and now, after having read Angelina’s open letter I will most probably lose sleep as well. But I can’t tell you how I would react if… hmm I don’t even want to paint that picture in my mind, let alone write it down!

young Angelina Jolie circa Tomb Raider

Let’s discuss this. As women. As women’s companions, boyfriends, husbands, fathers, sons. Whoever is reading these lines and feels like sharing – please do. We’re only humans and compassion and empathy should be one of our capital life principles. (you can read Angelina Jolie’s letter here, if you haven’t already!)


#1 Ellington on 05.14.13 at 8:37 pm

I have always liked Angelina Jolie, she always seemed to me to have substance along with her form. She has her detractors but I find that she often makes interesting and brave choices.
What she did and the fact that she shared it with the world is a good thing because maybe it will get people talking and being more supportive and proactive of this type of Cancer and Cancer in general.
I admire and respect her for this because she did not have to tell anyone at all.

#2 ana on 05.15.13 at 11:08 am

She is handling the tragedy with such grace.
I think her courage and candor will inspire other women to be proactive as well. I wish that these procedures are accessible to women from every walk of life.
Admirable in all aspects. I always loved her and now even more.

#3 Appollonia on 05.15.13 at 5:35 pm

Last night I posted Guardian’s Hadley Freeman’s column about Angelina’s letter on my FB wall. It’s exactly how I feel.
My lovely eldest 84 years old friend replied: “how is this more important than the many not famous women who have gone and go through the same thing?” After I explained why it is important someone like Angelina talked about this procedure she understood.

Angelina makes it clear how important it is we discuss this matter. At least I hope the discussion continues and her brave open letter will be not ‘old news’ tomorrow and the day after…..

Today I cried a lot because of a very dear friend who died of as well breast as ovarian cancer. She struggled nine years. As long as Angelina’s mom fought for her life.
If you have witnessed such pain and suffer I understand why Angelina chose for a life without risks and fear. For herself and her loved ones.
And shared her experience with the world. The many emotional reactions made it clear how badly many women and also men were relieved and almost happy they had a chance to share their stories.
Therefore I applaud Angelina wholeheartedly for her letter. Especially since she still face another challenge, her ovarian surgery. It’s a 50/50 change….. I wish her all the best and a long and healthy life.

#4 ana on 05.16.13 at 1:56 am

I am sorry for the lost of your friend Appollonia…

#5 Appollonia on 05.16.13 at 7:16 am

Thanks ana…’s hard to forgot or replace a very close friend. It’s like the loss of a family member.
That was an emotional reply but I am back on my feet again. What else?

I know of quite a few women with this disease….still alive. Also two women, one in her 30s and the other in her 40s who have had this surgery…. Both women have the gene but had yet contracted breast cancer. Both had to consider the option to choose for chemo and radiation or the double mastectomy. Both chose the last without hesitation.

My friend contracted her cancer in yet the ’90s without being aware she had the assassin in her body.

Take good care of yourselves everyone who read this…. be good to your friends who have become victims of this almost epidemic disease…..

#6 Ellington on 05.16.13 at 11:22 am

That is so sad Appollonia about your good friend. : (

I am so sorry to hear that. : (

I think the point a lot of the detractors are missing about Angelina Jolie coming forward about this is that she is NOT calling herself a hero at all. She is doing what she feels she must so that she can be around for her kids and for her partner Brad. Brad called her a Mom hero for their family, not for the world in general. No one was saying that she is better than the unknown women who are going through the same thing! I am tired of people not comprehending things!
Again I am glad that she came forward to talk about this because it will shine the light on this subject and the heinous that is Cancer.
Now maybe, just maybe more women will go get checked out and maybe they will not be so afraid of not being considered beautiful of femminine because of having their ovaries and breasts removed.

#7 Appollonia on 05.16.13 at 12:07 pm

As you wrote Ellington it’s important to shine a light on this subject and the monster cancer is in general.

Personal stories are important. I consider every woman who has the nerve to speak open about this a hero. Also the people that lost their lives…..

As ana stated yet there is still the problem that even if women are aware these procedures are not accessible to all women. This is very important! As is a regular mammogram test.
Since we have a private health care insurance lots of things are for many people NOT accessible anymore…. This is one of those…..oh, sure the mastectomy will be paid for. That is covered. But a reconstruction? And more important the BRCA1 gene test? I think not. Or one has to pay a sky high health insurance or/and has nice savings……..:(((

#8 Ellington on 05.16.13 at 1:35 pm

It is expensive and not readily accessible because this kind of Cancer does not happen to men.

Thankfully our Canadian medical system will pay for the women having the procedures, the test and the surgery and reconstruction.

#9 Appollonia on 05.16.13 at 4:21 pm

Ellington, to be sure I informed myself better. For now health care insurances must pay for reconstruction if the mastectomy was necessary due to cancer. As part of the recovery. I couldn’t find anything when it’s a woman own choice like in Angelina’s case.
This is all the cause of privatisation and every year in November and December we can change from one to another insurance. And every year it drives me nuts! Until 2005 we had national health care. The first year it was okay but year after year has become more costly. It’s a basic insurance and we can take and extra insurance. With stars. The more stars the more the more the costs….sighs….next year I quit my dentist insurance. It’s cheaper to pay for it myself.

I remember someone had uneven breasts. She felt very insecure. It was indeed weird. But not life threatening of course. So this girl could fix her breasts paid by the national health care. After a psychiatric or psychologist gave permission. Can’t remember how many sessions were necessary. That was in the 90s….This is impossible these days.
Yes, times have changed……..

Men get breast cancer too by the way. And their weak link is prostate cancer.

#10 kpriss on 05.18.13 at 9:34 am

I’ve been reading all these lines about Angelina’s coming out these past days and it really surprised me to see how many women (and men, but mostly women as they felt directly involved and responsible for their feelings regarding her letter) saying how much this changed the way they regarded Angelina Jolie. And how much they felt the need to switch from camp Aniston to camp Jolie.

I can’t believe they’re still talking about that!

So all in all, for someone who doesn’t have a publicist or a PR (or so they say), Angelina really did something outstanding, breaching through any and all media channels with an honest life story, reaching wider audiences than any PR machinery could’ve ever. This reassures me, humanly speaking. We’re still able to feel empathy, concern in relation with something we haven’t had direct contact with…. Not to mention the huge attention it brings to the breast cancer matter and how it got ladies talking about it. Look at us ;-) We’re remembering good friends, past friends, people we’ve met and who have been in a similar situation, dealt with this monster, like Appollonia called it.

Thank you for having answered with so much grace, wit and getting so much involved in this matter! Will I face the challenge, I’ll think about what you said, about what Angelina said, taking more into consideration than I previously thought I would!

#11 Brad on 05.20.13 at 11:52 pm

It would take an enormous amount of courage to take a radical step like that – a lot of people would understandably be unable to face up to it.

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