Angelina Jolie, media darling, actress, partner to Brad Pitt, and now a surgery patient after having prophylactic (preventative) double mastectomy surgery? It's true. Angelina had both breasts removed earlier this year, and miracle of all miracles, successfully kept it out of the tabloids!
Why on earth would a beautiful woman who has made her fortune on the way her face (and breasts, to some extent) look choose to have her breasts removed? It's simple, as simple as genetics. Risk drove the decision to have breast surgery.
Jolie is a BRCA1 gene carrier. In the simplest terms, she has an astronomical risk of developing breast cancer (she stated this was an 87% chance) and additional 50% risk of ovarian cancer. Her mother died of breast cancer at the age of 56. Jolie opted to have a double mastectomy and lower her risk of dying young of breast cancer to about 5%. She doesn't address having a hysterectomy for the risk of ovarian cancer.
Why is this announcement, this uncharacteristic openness from Jolie? It may have to do with having children who will never see their grandmother. Children who deserve to have Angelina in their lives instead of her memory, but bigger picture, talking openly about breast cancer is about saving lives. Lots of them.
If you could save thousands of lives by talking about your own health, would you? Angelina Jolie can do exactly that. She can choose to tell the world that she had a double mastectomy and get people talking about the fact that some women have to fight their insurance companies to prevent cancer. Oh, they will pay when you have cancer and want a mastectomy, but to prevent cancer... well, that's a tougher battle. Angelinas's getting the word out about BRCA1 & 2 to help prevent some of the nearly 500,000 cases of breast cancer diagnosed each year.
Angelina may have played many strong women who shoot guns and save lives, but this may be her finest moment, because she is using her fame to save lives in the real world instead of on celluloid.
So when you hear people talking about Angelina's "boobs" after the news hits in the morning, ask the women you love if they have a family history of breast cancer. If they do, ask them if they have ever had genetic testing. There may be a delay in getting testing after the Jolie floodgates open, but that's ok, it's worth the wait to find out if Angelina may have inspired you to save a life that may be your own.
Q & A
What is a double mastectomy? It is a surgery to remove both breasts, also called a bilateral mastectomy. A unilateral mastectomy or single mastectomy would remove one breast.
What are the different types of mastectomies?