image by: Gage Skidmore
The whole world is once again talking about Angelina Jolie and not because she's adopted another baby, donated money to another charity, built another school, or has finally married her partner, Brad Pitt
No, everyone is talking about Angelina Jolie because she chose to have her famous breasts surgically removed. Her choice, while radical to say the least, was done in an effort to reduce her risk of dying from breast cancer.
The actress said she underwent the preventive double mastectomy after learning that she carries a mutation of the BRCA1 gene, which significantly increases her risk of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer. Jolie recently wrote about her experience in a New York Times op-ed piece in which she described the three-step, three-month process she underwent to save her life.
On February 2, the actress began her treatment with the "nipple delay" procedure, which is done in an effort to save the nipple. This procedure involves severing the blood vessels beneath the nipple so that it no longer depends on breast tissue for its blood supply. Instead, the nipple becomes accustomed to getting its blood supply from the skin around it rather than the breast tissue underneath it, which will be removed during the mastectomy.
Two weeks later, Jolie had her mastectomy. During this procedure her doctors removed all of her breast tissue and inserted temporary expanders. Over the course of a few weeks the expanders were slowly filled with saline to prepare the breasts for permanent implants. Nine weeks later, she underwent breast reconstruction surgery in which her doctors inserted the implants. Now she recovers.
Jolie's decision to undergo such a major surgery when she didn't have cancer may sound a bit extreme; however the consequences of not doing so might have killed her eventually. Prior to the surgery, Jolie's doctors estimated she had an 87% risk of developing breast cancer and a 50% risk of developing ovarian cancer.
She said the decision to have the surgery was to minimize her risk of developing breast cancer, and given her family medical history, it's understandable. Her maternal grandmother had ovarian cancer and she watched her mother struggle with breast cancer, then die of ovarian cancer at 56. Because of what she witnessed with her own mother, she said she is determined that her six children not watch her suffer and die.
Jolie, who is notoriously private, shared her story in the hopes that it would encourage other women who are also at risk. She said women need to be proactive about their health especially if they have a family history of cancer. While she acknowledges that the cost of genetic testing for many women who are at risk is an obstacle, as the test costs around $3,000. However, she said, "It has got to be a priority that more women get access to gene testing and lifesaving preventive treatment, whatever their means and background, wherever they live."
Jolie's decision to have surgery has no doubt put genetic testing and breast cancer in the spotlight. And because of her decision to go public, maybe, just maybe, uninsured women and underinsured women will get the help and attention they need. In a worst case scenario at least women in similar circumstances will be comforted and encouraged by her experience and her decision to share it.
As for Jolie, even she admits that there is no such thing as 100% prevention; however her chances of developing breast cancer have now dropped from 87% to under 5%. And on a personal note, she said, "I do not feel any less of a woman. I feel empowered that I made a strong choice that in no way diminishes my femininity." Spoken like a true woman.
Angelina Jolie has showed us by example that we don't have to sit back and let our genetics determine our future. We can. And as a result, her decision has singlehandedly redefined femininity, beauty, dignity, strength, and courage.
Stacy Matson, a health enthusiast from Southern California, regularly blogs on Celebrity Health for A Healthier World, as well as contributing to the Best of the Best.
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