14 May 2013
Award-winning actor and director Angelina Jolie published an op-ed piece in today's New York Times, announcing that she has undergone preventive double mastectomy surgery. (Jolie's mother, Marcheline Bertrand, died of ovarian cancer at the age of 56. As a carrier of a "faulty" BRCA1 gene, Jolie's own risk of developing ovarian cancer was determined by her doctors to be 50 percent, and her risk of breast cancer, 87 percent. A mother of six children, Jolie elected to act now, before any diagnosis of cancer.)
In addition to her physical beauty and her acting talent, Angelina Jolie is highly regarded for promoting humanitarian causes. Among other commitments, she is a Special Envoy and former Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations High Commission on Refugees. Rebecca Mead in The New Yorker writes that "Jolie's medical decision says again what shouldn't need re-saying ~ that a woman's body is hers, that breasts are for something other than ogling, and that hard choices are made for strong reasons. Her decision to make her choice public is bold and brave and admirable."
Here is a CBS news interview, which includes an instructive animation of the mastectomy and reconstruction procedure ~ the results are light years more natural in appearance than has been true with previous technology and procedures.
In her Times piece, the 38-year-old Jolie explains ~ "I am writing about it now because I hope that other women can benefit from my experience. Cancer is still a word that strikes fear into people's hearts, producing a deep sense of powerlessness. But today it is possible to find out through a blood test whether you are highly susceptible to breast and ovarian cancer, and then take action."
I can attest to that feeling of powerlessness. As a result of baking myself without skin protection for twenty years in the southern Arizona sun, I've had dozens of pre-cancerous growths which were either frozen or removed for biopsy from my skin. Several were carcinomas in the early stages of development. Skin cancer means that I'll be visiting my dermitologist for the rest of my life.
But as I'm certain Angelina Jolie understands, early prevention is preferable to the alternative.