May 16, 2013
Beautiful, Successful And Braver Than I Will Ever Be
My grandmother died from breast cancer and it is not a pretty death. It is ugly and painful and draining on everyone around you. So, I walk in fundraisers and I shop at the Breast Cancer Store, and I do my checks as regularly as I can. I even found a lump once and went immediately to the doctor to have it biopsied because I know that early detection is the key to survival. (It was emerging scar tissue, thank goodness.) What I haven’t done, what I’m not brave enough to do, is have myself checked for the genes that cause breast cancer.
Two genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2, have been found to be the major causes of breast cancer. In fact, having just one of these genes raises your chances of getting breast cancer from twelve percent (average US woman) to 65 percent. I can’t even imagine if you had them both. There are other genetic expressions for breast cancer as well, among them the HER2-positive, which tends to be one of the most aggressive types of breast cancer.
In March, the Mayo Clinic announced that, along with a team of collaborators, they had discovered something like 49 new genetic risk markers, according to a report by Minnesota Public Radio. Eventually these will turn into targeted therapies and more accurate testing for risk factors. Right now, they are just tantalizing clues.
Not tantalizing enough for one incredibly brave woman. You all know her; she is the brilliant, eccentric, talented daughter of Jon Voight, Angelina Jolie. Jolie released a statement in the May 14 publication of the New York Times called “My Medical Choice,” in which she makes the most cognizant, poignant and well-reasoned statement about why she has undergone three surgeries to have a prophylactic doubled mastectomy done.
Jolie reveals that her own mother died of breast cancer, and that she carries one of the faulty genes, BRCA1. That one gene raised her chance of developing breast cancer to 87 percent and ovarian cancer to 50 percent. You should take a moment to read the whole thing, but let me let Angelina tell this next part.
“I wanted to write this to tell other women that the decision to have a mastectomy was not easy. But it is one I am very happy that I made. My chances of developing breast cancer have dropped from 87 percent to under 5 percent. I can tell my children that they don’t need to fear they will lose me to breast cancer.”
“It is reassuring that they see nothing that makes them uncomfortable. They can see my small scars and that’s it. Everything else is just Mommy, the same as she always was. And they know that I love them and will do anything to be with them as long as I can. On a personal note, 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.”
“For any woman reading this, I hope it helps you to know you have options. I want to encourage every woman, especially if you have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, to seek out the information and medical experts who can help you through this aspect of your life, and to make your own informed choices.”
Brava, Ms. Jolie, brava! If only the rest of us were that brave.