Angelina Jolie recently announced that she had a “preemptive” full double mastectomy due to a genetic condition that indicates she is at a very high risk to develop breast cancer. Although I think everyone respects her decision to do what she feels is necessary, her public exposé and the typical internet shitstorm that followed all combine to make me ask questions.
Angelina has done a fabulous job exploiting her on-screen talents and that has put her in a much different situation financially than the vast majority of women in the world. The gene test for breast cancer predisposition (the BRCA1 gene) alone costs over $3,000USD. How many women, although suspicious due to a family history of breast cancer, can afford this?
And of those who can, how many are prepared to deal with a positive result? As is the case with most things in life, ignorance is bliss .. but once we know something, we feel compelled to act. I have no personal experience with this, of course, but I’m guessing that a positive (voluntary) test result would hit almost as hard as a positive cancer diagnosis.
I lost my mom to breast cancer. Angelina’s story made me think about my mom, and what her seemingly normal life would have been like if she would have known what the future had in store for her, yet she was powerless financially to change it. Knowing her, and how seriously she took motherhood, I can only assume the stress she would have felt while still healthy would have changed the joyful years she spent with us.
But back to Ms Jolie’s situation, she’s out there now as a model for women to “know that they have some strong options”.
Excuse me? Strong options? While I don’t begrudge Angelina’s affluence at all .. she earned it .. I have to wonder what “strong options” most women have. I also don’t want to downplay the trauma associated with having body parts removed, especially those that the world chooses to use to judge attractiveness and femininity, but not everyone has a team of Beverly Hills plastic surgeons waiting in the wings to use state of the art surgery techniques and implants to soften the appearance of the affected area after a radical double mastectomy.
Almost every woman forced to take such extreme intervention is devastated since the post-surgery appearance most have to live with is aesthetically “difficult”. In virtually ever case, the nipples are lost .. Angelina’s were not. Ms Jolie’s procedure was done in two steps .. for optimal cosmetic results. A piece of cadaver tissue was used to support the implants .. again optimal for that “natural” appearance. (Yes, you read that right. Tissue from a dead body was used. )
Yes, she has sacrificed part of her body in the interest of survival .. a huge and very difficult decision and we applaud her for that, but that decision was certainly made a little easier because of her access to top drawer cosmetic surgery.
I just think it’s unfair of her to go public with a very private issue under the guise that women should take control of their personal situation. Yes, taking control of our destiny is important as it relates to our choices in life, love, family, careers, relationships and friends but horrific diseases are just something we can rarely control, unless our course we’re financially well situated.
Here’s what she said in the New York Times opinion pages: “I chose not to keep my story private because there are many women who do not know that they might be living under the shadow of cancer. It is my hope that they, too, will be able to get gene tested, and if they have a high risk they, too, will know that they have strong options”
In my opinion, she’s not feeling very comfortable with her decision and is seeking validation, or help, from the public to pat her on the head, call her brave and wonderful, tell her they love her dearly, tell her that she did the right thing and massage her ego at a time when she’s feeling down. All things that the average woman, post-mastectomy, will have, at best, on a miniscule scale, from one or two family members or close friends.
The final insult to breast cancer survivors will come when she starts to appear in public once again looking “boob-a-licious”. And I’m guessing that will happen. Of course she’s entitled to do that! But if her disclosure had never happened, she wouldn’t be rubbing anything in anyone’s face, figuratively speaking.
In my opinion, the world changed slightly when she made her announcement on Tuesday May 14th 2013. From that day forward, many women, upon getting a breast cancer diagnosis, will feel even worse because they either ignored, or weren’t able to follow, Angelina’s “advice”. I know her words would not have been received as motivation by my mom.
Why do celebrities feel the need to do stuff like this? I don’t think we should be getting our political “advice” from Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Ted Nugent or Clint Eastwood, and our healthcare information and survival motivation shouldn’t be coming from Angelina Jolie.
But on a more positive note, her timing could have been worse. For those like me who lost a mom or sister to that dreadful disease, Mother’s Day was a time to reflect on the good times.