This morning, Angelina Jolie published an op-ed in the The York Times sharing that she chose to have a double mastectomy after learning that she carries the BRCA1 gene. Her doctors estimate an 87% risk of developing breast cancer and a 50% risk of developing ovarian cancer. (She notes that the chances are different for every woman.)
I’m Team Jen, but, as someone with a strong family history of breast cancer, I have to commend Jolie for making an incredibly difficult decision for herself and her loved ones. The op-ed is fact-based, well-written, and concise.
Both of my maternal aunts have battled breast cancer; one took it on twice. There is a very palpable fear in our family. Each woman, myself included, wonders if/when she’ll be diagnosed. One aunt did undergo genetic testing and does not have either BRCA gene, which means that my mom, her identical twin, doesn’t, either. While there’s some relief in that, there’s still that terrifying thought that we could still receive that phone call.
Knowing what devastation breast cancer can cause, if I knew that having a mastectomy would (likely) prevent it, I would definitely consider it. As much as we associate breasts with femininity and womanhood, I’d prefer the mastectomy to chemo, radiation, hair loss, sickness, fear of death, etc.
Jolie does note the financial aspect of genetic testing. To test for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes is costly, and those are funds that a majority of women simply don’t have. Hopefully, that will change with increased awareness and more women will have access to testing, should they choose.
Dr. Lauren Streicher wrote a response to Jolie’s op-ed for Everyday Health. I liked this quote from her: “Trust me, it is much easier to talk about strategies to decrease or eliminate the risk of cancer than to tell someone they already have it.”