Her Medical Choice

May 14

Everywhere I went today, people were abuzz with talk about Angelina Jolie’s brave and inspiring announcement.  I encourage you to read Jolie’s own words in her op-ed piece in The New York Times.

There is little doubt that Angelina was proactive with genetic testing because of her mother’s diagnosis at forty-six, and death at fifty-six, of ovarian cancer.  I think her wish is simple: she doesn’t want her children to have to go through what she did.

I get it Angelina, I do.

And what scares the pants off me is that my daughters will be facing a similar decision in a few decades.  My diagnosis at age thirty-two means that my daughters should start being screened at age twenty-two.  That’s an awfully young age to make big decisions.  Breasts, like it or not, are intimately tied to femininity, sexuality, identity, and beauty.  I grapple with each in the wake of my diagnosis and surgery, and I’m a “healthy”, “well-adjusted” woman who has already been lucky enough to marry her stud muffin husband and birth her gorgeous babies.  Angelina and I have that in common.  Many women, my sisters and daughters included, are looking at either daunting family histories and/or positive BRCA (breast cancer gene) tests and trying to weigh these big issues against one another.     It is a hideous predicament to find oneself in.  And honestly, I’m glad I never had to make the decision in that gray shady area: in black and white, my doctor’s told me what I had to do in order to save my life.  My cancer left me breast-less.

To be clear, I am BRCA negative.  But my doctors believe that my cancer does have a genetic component: it might be BRCA3 or BRCA 45, or we may never know.  Regardless of individual genetic testing and statistical analysis, the fact remains that one in eight women will get breast cancer in her lifetime.

One in eight.  Think of your eight best friends.  I know, yikes.  Then add eight of your aunts, daughters, nieces, grandmothers and moms into the mix.  Double yikes.

My hope is that women are empowered to become informed and to choose their own path.  Having one of the world’s sexiest women as a face for proactive medical choices will certainly open the door for a lot of conversations.  Lives will be saved because more women will do more.  I also hope that the public takes it easy on Angelina and the BRCA community.  She’s just turned the odds around and given her kids the best gift they’ll ever get (which is saying something in the Jolie/Pitt family): the gift of herself.

I pray that my girls can conduct themselves with the grace and dignity and bravery that Angelina Jolie demonstrated today, regardless of circumstances they must bear in their lives.

You know what?  I think that tonight we should raise a glass to Angelina’s mother, Marcheline Bertrand, who tonight would be saying to her daughter, Well done, sweet girl.  I’m so proud of you.

 

 

8 comments

  1. Thank you for that post!!!

  2. Steph /

    I’ve read a lot of posts about this, but this is the only one so beautifully written that it made me cry.
    I had to have a mastectomy/reconstructive surgery for different medical reasons, so in a way I can relate to the femininity/surgery aspect of this. What I had isn’t at all remotely common so it’s not really necessary to promote awareness (basically you’d know if you had it) but this is the kind of breast cancer awareness we need. This is something that people may not know about, and I am SO grateful she made the brave choice for her family, but also to share the news so others are aware of this testing.

  3. Barb Emma /

    AMEN!

  4. Brava! Well said!

  5. Mum /

    The true beauty of a women is her inner light. Physical appearance is temporary and ever changing! Science gives us options, courage and purpose allow us to lead the life we want. I admire your inner light!

  6. KimP /

    Great post! I love that you referred to what her mom would be thinking and saying. So true!

  7. Patty /

    You are so amazing…as you know 3 of my Divas, my mom, an aunt and a sister have had breast cancer so it is scary… You are the essence of courage and class!

  8. Kelly /

    Hello Jen,
    I met your mother the other night at a nurse med-surg meeting. I am a fellow breast cancer survivor and she told me about your blog. I read every entry….beautiful and very poignant! I see so many similarities in our stories I can’t believe it! I know we have the same breast surgeon and OB/GYN in common…..how funny! They are truly the BEST as you know! I just wanted to let you know that I am 7 years out….cancer free. I was diagnosed in April 2006 at 35 yrs of age. My husband and I have 2 boys who were barely 3 and 6 at the time. I also did chemo first, then Mastectomy ( bilateral) and followed up with the remaining Herceptin treatments and then a hysterectomy…..(fun times) :) I had 5 yrs of Femara after the hyster and now am back on Tamoxifen for another 5 yrs for a total of 10 yrs endocrine therapy….( more fun times!). I am also BRCA+ . At any rate, I just wanted to share the details so you know you are not alone and that you can trust in your healing. I really believe God brought your mother into my life the other night so I could read your story……you see, I have been struggling to remain grateful for my healing. I know that’s difficult to understand but eventually, cancer does not control your life and you begin to fret over the silly things again…….and life gets in the way, daily stresses, work, family, not to mention menopause at its worst…….( no one should have to be menopausal with little kids around! ) Reading your story brought me back to a place of gratitude. Gratitude for my healing and time I have been given. Thank you for sharing your story! You are so strong!!

    Kelly