The Angie Effect
“While everyone's lost, the battle is won…with all these things that I've done”
-The Killers “All These Things That I Have Done”
Angelina Jolie Gets Mastectomy!
That was THE headline all over every morning show…and all over my text messages, my Facebook wall and filling up my inbox. Somehow, I’ve become the local breast cancer resource-and everyone had to know if I thought Angelina did the right thing. Of course she did- but it doesn’t really matter what I think, or what anyone thinks for that matter, she did the right thing for herself and her family. It is a deeply personal choice, and one that it exceptionally hard to understand unless you are walking in her stilettos. Some celebrities have weighed in on her ‘brave’ decision and others have called her decision ‘fearful’…and for the life of me I don’t understand why everyone must opine on her choice. She was armed with as much information as she needed to make her decision-she also lost her mother to ovarian cancer several years prior, she has seen cancer, up close and intimately. She wanted no part of it.
Does this mean she has a 100% chance of never having breast cancer? Not really, but when she tested positive for the BRCA mutation, and found out that her chances were 87% that she could get it, she took steps to drastically lower her risks. She put her children’s needs first-as any mother would do. She wants to be there for them. Who can question her on that? If by being very outspoken about her choice makes more women, with a family history of the disease decide to get tested and in turn make an informed choice to take control of their health, then really who are any of us to judge? Knowledge is power.
If a doctor had told me ten years ago that I would absolutely get breast cancer when I was thirty-eight (and again at forty-four) I would have thought long and hard, and with the support of my family, made the same decision. But my situation was much different. Cancer, of any kind, does not run in my family. I did not grow up in a world filled with the words malignancy, tumor, radiation, chemotherapy, oncology and stages. So when I was diagnosed, I was stunned. I was in deep denial about how serious this was and I just wanted to get past it and move forward. So I did just that. Like a six year-old that just gulps down the bitter tasting medicine and then runs outside to play, I made my visit to Cancertown and went on with my life. After two years of being cancer free I decided I was ready to take the genetic testing. It was just too much for me to process at the time that I was being treated-I had enough on my plate. As expected, I tested BRCA negative.
…and yet, here I am, six years later, once again waiting for my hair to grow back in as I continue to go for adjuvant treatment every three weeks. Being BRCA negative and having no family history, I truly did not think I would ever have to deal with breast cancer again. My doctor had said, once I finished treatment the first time, that I now had less than a 3% chance of getting breast cancer again...my statistics were lower than that of the average woman. Well, throw those statistics out the window, cancer is a crapshoot.
The only information I was armed with in 2007 was the information my doctors gave me at the time. A lumpectomy was as effective as a mastectomy. Breast conserving surgery is the new norm. My survival rates remained the same regardless of the procedure I chose, so I chose the easier path. In hindsight, I would have made the more aggressive choice. I regretted my lumpectomy from the time I hit my first cancerversary, because of the information that I wasn’t given. The possibility of false alarms. Biopsies done for any little spot that turns up on a mammogram or MRI that will completely turn your world upside down. The unpredictability of severe radiation deformity and of course, the remote possibility that a tumor CAN grow in radiated tissue. I felt like I locked the door but left the keys on the porch.
When I was diagnosed the second time, a double mastectomy was a no brainer. I woke up from the surgery smiling, and not just because of the generosity of my anesthesiologist. For the record, I have loved my new boobs since the first time I laid eyes on them. I love that I will never HAVE to wear a bra. I love that I will NEVER have another mammogram…and I LOVE wearing halter tops! The plastic surgery options and results are amazing and I could not sit here and write this article without giving a big shout out to the most stellar team of doctors that put this Humpty Dumpty back together again: Dr. Debra Camal, Dr. Negin Griffith, and Dr. John Taylor.
So, after “all these things that I have done” do I think any woman that tests positive for BRCA should be proactive and have prophylactic surgery? Yes.
Do I think any woman diagnosed with early stage breast cancer should forgo breast conserving surgery and just get the double mastectomy no matter how small the tumor? Yes.
But these are just my opinions based on my experience...and hindsight is always 20/20.