I wonder who'll play Angelina in the movie?
First and foremost, I want to say that what any woman does to her own body and to preserve her own health is her own damn business. Unless we are in her exact pair of shoes there are limitations on the right to comment.
Secondly, I think Ms. Jolie's choice to go public, especially given her status as a Hollywood sex symbol, is very brave. Having a mastectomy is shame-laden for so many of us and discussing the procedure openly does a great service. I love that she chose to emphasize how, most of the time, the mastectomy is not major surgery and recovery can be fairly smooth. A woman without her "natural" breasts can adjust and go on living her life as she did before - even when her husband is Brad Pitt and what she did before was star on the big screen.
I think that Ms. Jolie made the right decision for herself, based on her situation and the resources at her disposal. How do I know it was the right decision? Because she is happy with it.
That being said, I do have a few things I need to get off my (ahem) chest. These are my thoughts, in no particular order:
- The vast majority of women would not benefit from genetic testing. We have no family history of breast cancer and do not belong to ethnic groups most likely to carry the gene.
- Immediate reconstruction is not an option for some women, nor is it the norm in Canada. For some of us, reconstructions is never an option, for physical or economic reasons.
- Reconstruction is major surgery. Some of us would never put ourselves through a much more serious operation, that may not be successful, just to meet a societal definition of "beautiful", or even "normal."
- The kind of nipple preserving surgery Ms. Jolie had is still new and not yet widely offered. In Canada, a group called Be The Choice is trying to change that. Melanie Adrian,the founder of Be The Choice had to see many doctors and fight hard to obtain this procedure for herself in 2011.
- Many women do not have the resources to get the quality of care that made the process so easy for Ms. Jolie. Even in Canada, where we have theoretically universal health care, there are geographic and socio-economic discrepancies that affect treatment and recovery.
- Access to testing is also very restricted, largely because the BRCA1 and 2 genes (the ones that can mutate and cause breast and ovarian cancer) have been patented by a company that restricts its use and ensures that the cost remains high. The patenting of genes is an odious and frightening practice. I'll elaborate on that and share some resources in a future post.
Every woman needs to make her own decision about prevention, surgery and treatment. What we all should agree on is that these decisions ought never to be restricted by available resources, ignorance or the greed of big corporations.
Want to read more? Here are some of my favourite posts, offering insight from different perspectives:
"Still Boobless", on Insert Boobs Here, a blog by Sarah Merchant who was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer at 28.
"Angelina Jolie's choice not the only one" by Joan Walsh, on Salon.com.
"Angelina Jolie's Bilateral Prophylactic Mastectomy - If She & I Could Chat", on Nancy's Point, by Nancy Stordahl who lost her mother to breast cancer in 2008 and went through the illness herself in 2010.
"Preventative Mastectomy: Angelina Jolie's Very Public Choice" on BlogHer by Contributing Editor Laurie White.