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Saturday, June 1, 2013

False Security

By now many of you have heard about Angelina Jolie's decision to have a double mastectomy. If you hadn't, well now you have.

I've now had some time to think about this and want to share my thoughts with all of you.

First of all, kudos to her for making such a tough choice. I know it's not an easy decision and she did what she felt was best for her. Cancer of any kind is a very scary thing to deal with.

Now, the reasons I cringe a bit not only about her doing this, but her sharing her decision with the world.

Let's start with her celebrity status and the fact a lot of girls and women look up to her. A lot of them will go out and want to get tested for this mutant gene. If they find out they have it, they'll be inspired to get a mastectomy as well.

I know a lot of you are now going, "Isn't this a good thing? It will reduce their chances of breast cancer. Preventative measures are best. Besides, it's not like they'll be any less of a woman for doing it."

My answer to the last part: They may think they'll be ok with losing their breast, but ask any cancer survivor who didn't have a choice. They prepared themselves, thought they would be ok after the surgery, but still found themselves grieving when it was done. They lost a very visible part of themselves and it takes some getting used to. Anyone who says it didn't upset them is lying.

As women, we're just as obsessed with our breasts as the men are. Think about when we were teenagers going through puberty. Tell me you weren't stressing about them then. Sit in a room full of other women. Unless it's a Puritan Church group, I guarantee the subject of breasts will come up at some point. Heck, they were talking about them in the waiting room of my daughter's dance class. It's part of us. We can survive without them, but it doesn't mean it will be easy.

Yes, there are ways to cope with it. Reconstructive surgery, specialized clothing, learning to embrace the 'New You.' I've even seen all-over tattoos to make those scars into something beautiful. But, it still takes time to adjust.

Now for the biggest reason this worries me: a mastectomy isn't 100% proof against breast cancer. Her chances might drop, but they still exist. My own mother has survived breast cancer twice. She had a mastectomy the first time, was cancer-free for two years and it came back IN THE SAME SPOT. She's one of the least likely candidate to get it in the first place and she ended up with it twice.

We also can't forget, although it's not as frequent, but even men get breast cancer.

What I'm getting at is I'm afraid after they go through with this preventative measure, many of these women will feel like they're free and clear. They'll think, erroneously, that they don't have to worry about getting breast cancer now. Will they continue with regular check-ups? What are they going to do if, after subjecting themselves to this surgery, they end up with it anyway?

We've become a society of 'Preventative Measures'. We try to protect ourselves against everything imaginable before the threat can even materialize. Sometimes I wonder if we've gone too far.


  1. Emily, I agree and disagree with some of your comments. I think that women who get a mastectomy and reduce their chances of getting cancer would hopefully have done their homework and I'm sure their doctors would inform them. Their chances after that are probably reduced down to the chances that exist in the general population. Another thing to consider: If a woman who has a high risk of getting cancer gets it because she didn't have a mastectomy, what would she be feeling then?
    NOT AT ALL AN EASY DECISION. I respect that Angelina Jolie, who is a representative for beauty,fashion, etc. has made her choice public.

    1. I agree that it's not an easy decision to make. Hopefully those women would do their homework, but I worry they wouldn't. We have such a culture of 'hurry up and prevent it' and 'breakthrough medicines' that people tend to rush out to get, many don't find out the consequences first. Not just with this, but with many other things. We wrap ourselves in protective bubble wrap and think, "Because I had A, B & C done, I'm safe."

      When you ask people who get preventative procedures done or take preventative medication what the side effects are, most of the time they say, "What does it matter? I won't end up with X disease." Looking at Angelina Jolie, I'm afraid this is what will happen to a lot of women.

      From watching many women I know an love go through this with no choice, I can only hope those who have the choice weigh that decision very carefully before going ahead. No, it isn't easy either way.

  2. I agree with you wholeheartedly, Emily. Fear is a powerful thing and it can make you do things without always thinking them through the way you might otherwise.

    I'm sorry about your mom, but she's very lucky - my mom didn't survive. By the time they found her cancer, it was so advanced that they couldn't do much. She had a mastectomy, chemo, and radiation anyway, but none of it helped. Next year will be twenty years since she died and I wonder how much we've really advanced since then when women go out and get double mastectomies as prevention.

    So many women in my family have had breast cancer that I would be surprised if I didn't have the BRCA gene, but I don't really see the point of finding out. Just because I have it doesn't guarantee I'll get cancer and if I don't have it, that's still no guarantee that I won't get cancer. I don't see what good it does me to know. Now if they could prove that having that gene would definitely give me cancer and that a mastectomy would definitely prevent it, then that would be different. But neither of those scenarios are true, and in their fear and desire to avoid a terrible illness, I think people forget that.

    1. I'm very sorry about your mom. Cancer sucks. I lost my Pepere and Aunt to it two years ago and it was hard to deal with. My own mom was very lucky, and very determined. Knowing there was a grandchild on the way both times I think helped with the attitude part. (Both times I was pregnant she had the cancer.)

      I have the same feeling about the testing. It's almost like getting tested when you're pregnant to see if the child has Downs' Syndrome. What difference is it going to make if it does? And the testing can cause more harm to both the mother and the child.