Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Would I Make The Same Decision?


The world woke up to the news that actress Angelina Jolie chose to undergo a double mastectomy after finding out that she is a carrier of a mutation of the BRCA1 gene. Carriers of this gene are at a greater risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer. The news came following an announcement by Jolie in a New York Times op-ed article entitled “My Medical Choice,” early Tuesday. In the article, Jolie admits she has recently finished three months, beginning February 2 and ending as recently as April 27, of medical procedures at the Pink Lotus Breast Center (located in Southern California), which included both the mastectomies and reconstruction, which included breast implants.

“My doctors estimated that I had an 87 percent risk of breast cancer and a 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer, although the risk is different in the case of each woman,” Jolie wrote. “Once I knew that this was my reality, I decided to be proactive and to minimize the risk as much I could. I made a decision to have a preventive double mastectomy….I wanted to write this to tell other women that the decision to have a mastectomy was not easy. But it is one I am very happy that I made," Jolie wrote. "My chances of developing breast cancer have dropped from 87 percent to under 5 percent." Jolie’s mother, actress Marcheline Bertrand, died of breast cancer at a very young age, 56. Jolie is currently 37 years old. This procedure is recommended for people like Jolie -- those with a known genetic risk because they possess the BRCA1 or BRCA2, or have a strong family history of the disease, NPR has reported.

As one of the most high profile celebrities in the world, I wonder if this announcement will lessen the unfortunate stigma women often report feeling following such a surgery. Women seem to very often feel that their femininity and “power” as a woman is tied to their breasts. Angelina herself addresses this in her article – "I do not feel any less of a woman," Jolie writes. "I feel empowered that I made a strong choice that in no way diminishes my femininity." With a family history of ovarian cancer (my favorite grandmother died of ovarian cancer when I was 13 years old, after a long 8-year battle with the disease), I question if I would be strong enough to make this same decision. Though I do not feel any identity tied to my breasts, it is the fear of such an involved surgery that causes pause.

Locally, women are already seeming to agree with Jolie’s decision. “Having seen the tragedy that breast cancer inflicts upon an individual and a family I personally would also choose the option of a prophylactic mastectomy. Hopefully this will bring heightened awareness to breast cancer research,” says a Chicago registered technologist in mammography, who has chosen to remain anonymous.

Jolie is not the only recognizable name to undergo this procedure, but perhaps the most vocal about it, at least as of today. In early 2013, 24 year-old Miss America contestant Allyn Rose announced she planned to go undergo a similar preventive mastectomy because she has a strong family history of breast cancer in her mother. Actress Christina Applegate, underwent a double mastectomy in 2008 after she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and like Jolie, had reconstructive surgery which included implants, similarly to Jolie.

I’m interested in your thoughts, following this morning’s revelation. Tweet me @arkaymktg and let me know if you would undergo preventative measures like this, if you knew you also carried this “faulty gene.”

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