Angelina Jolie made the headlines today when she announced she had undergone an elective and preventative double-mastectomy after learning she carries the BRCA1 gene. Her doctors estimated she had an 87% risk of breast cancer and 50% risk of ovarian cancer.
My reaction to her revelation: “Wow, good for her. How brave.”
I was taken aback when I read comments of others calling her an idiot for removing perfectly healthy body parts.
I suppose one’s reaction to such news is largely shaped by their own experiences. I lost my mom to breast cancer at the age of 57 and have struggled with deciding whether to have the genetic testing myself. What if the results show that I carry the gene? What then? How do you make a decision like that? Because a body part is healthy now does not remove the potential that lies within. I never want to experience the pain I watched my mom face, nor cause my loved ones the agony of watching me go through that.
I hope Jolie’s announcement helps women think about their options and serves as an encouragement of empowerment. Every woman’s situation is different. For some who have developed breast cancer, a lumpectomy may be an appropriate treatment (that was the route my mom chose, along with chemo and radiation). For others a single or double mastectomy may be appropriate. And for others like Jolie, who haven’t even developed cancer, such decisions are very personal and worthy of respect.