Because the first thing I thought, after hearing the news story about her elective double-mastectomy, was “if she can do it, I can do it.”
When I found out, back in November of 2011, that I have the BRCA-1 mutation, the decision to opt for a preventative double mastectomy, followed by an oophorectomy, was pretty much a “no-brainer.” I had lost my mother to breast cancer earlier that year, and wanted to be pro-active in making sure I wouldn’t have to face what my mom had to face: a radical mastectomy, chemotherapy, brain surgery, medication upon medication, and eventually a very heart-breaking, very painful physical decline that preceded her death. I also wanted to do what I could to make sure I would be able to enjoy many years with my children, my husband, my extended family and my friends, without my life turning into a constant battle with a life-threatening disease.
A year and a half has passed since I received the results of my genetic testing. In that span of time, I got pregnant with my second child, had a second c-section, and have breast-fed my son for five months, all which have delayed any steps I can take toward having the surgeries. I have also had time to REALLY come to terms with the decision I am facing, the impact it will have on my body, my brain, and my heart, and have had lots of time to doubt my decision. Do I really want to put my body through yet another surgery? Do I really want to see MORE scars than I already do when I look in the mirror? Am I ok with completely losing feeling in my breasts? Am I okay with becoming post-menopausal in my early 40s? Or should I perhaps just be super-vigilant about self-monitoring, without opting for such a radical surgery?
It’s not an easy decision. But hearing about Angelina Jolie’s choice to get the preventative surgeries has been incredibly comforting. I mean, it’s Angelina Jolie! Never in a million years would I have thought that she and I would have much in common. But here we are, both 37 years old, both with mothers that have recently passed away from cancer, both having the BRCA-1 mutation, both having to decide what to do with the knowledge about our genetic makeup.
And, I mean, it’s Angelina Jolie! Lara Croft, Hollywood goddess, mother of eight billion children, Special Envoy of UN, wife of Brad Pitt! Every move she makes is watched, documented, praised or criticized. She is probably one of the only women in the world who would make international headlines for making this kind of decision public.
It’s not that Angelina’s decision makes my doubts go away. And it’s not that her opting for a double-mastectomy makes my choices any easier. This is still MY body, and MY decision to make.
But seriously, it is encouraging to know that if I DO choose to get the surgeries (which I in all likelihood will), I will be sharing my journey with a very beautiful, very brave, very public figure who chose to be proactive in making decisions about her health, her future, and her identity. Her statement, “I feel empowered that I made a strong choice that in no way diminishes my femininity,” in turn empowers me to make my decisions without feeling like I will be losing my sense of self.
If she can do it, I can do it.
So thank you, Angelina.