Op-Ed piece for the New York Times in which the actress reveals that she underwent three months of surgical procedures to remove both breasts as a preventative measure. Jolie, whose mother passed away from breast cancer at age 56, tested positive for the BRCA1 gene which increased her chances for the disease to 87 percent. Her risk dropped to five percent after the double mastectomy.
It's a powerful one that hit close to me. I was surprised that someone so praised for her sexy looks would go through a mastectomy just like that - for the sake of her health and for her children. I more than commend her for her bravery and for opening up about her experience so others can break their own silence and fears. Luckily, I tested negative for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes that increase your risk for developing breast and ovarian cancers so I got away with a lumpectomy and radiation. Right now, I'm on Tamoxifen pills for five years to lower my chances of recurrence to about nine percent.
I don't know how I would've handled removing everything. I probably wouldn't have normalized as quickly as I have. Or maybe I would have, who knows? I feel that no matter how big or small your breasts are...they're still such a big part of femininity or at least that's what society has raised me to believe. I find myself dreading any trips to the beach just because I don't want to wear a bathing suit that'll reveal that my left boob is still slightly larger than the other, that the skin is still considerable darker as it continues to heal from the radiation treatment months ago, that I feel mangled and slightly damaged. But I'm still here, complete save for a small cancerous lump that foolishly tried to do me in.
"On a personal note, 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."
Reading Jolie's piece also made me think about health care access and how many can't afford treatments or the reconstructive surgery that could accompany a mastectomy. Genetic tests - conducted through blood samples - can be a huge help when deciding how to proceed and allows you to be proactive with your health instead of just getting swept away by the tide. It also costs several thousand dollars and it saddens me to think of those who'll be taken by surprise simply because they didn't or couldn't know. Had I not made the decision to seek individual health insurance coverage a year before being diagnosed (I'm a freelancer and therefore not under my employer's coverage), I would be drowning in debt right now. The monthly premiums and out-of-pocket maximums are still astronomically high, but if I didn't have that, I would be adding medical payment plans to the student loans I already have. Cancer is costly in so many ways.
Typically cancer stories fill me with dread because the disease typically comes out of nowhere or there's news that it's spread or somebody finally lost their war, but this one was positive despite the drastic measure. It was good, it was strong, and it showed that breast cancer can be overpowered and any whisper of a risk can be decidedly stomped out. Here's hoping that everyone - regardless of socioeconomic status - will someday have the ability to be just as decisive and proactive about their own health without needing to choose between providing for their family's immediate needs and ensuring they'll be alive and well for many years to come.