Angelina Jolie is a gift to showbiz journalists, over the years she’s been involved in various celebrity stories which have taken up lots of column inches and has a nice line in unusual behaviour which proves great fodder for journalists. It doesn’t hurt that she’s a very attractive woman and in a Hollywood dream couple with Brad Pitt.
This week she’s been grabbing the headlines online because she revealed that she’d had a preventative double mastectomy because she has a genetic trait which makes her more likely to develop breast cancer and ovarian cancer. In a piece she wrote for the New York Times Jolie revealed that doctors had informed her that she was an 87% chance of developing breast cancer and a 50% chance of ovarian cancer. Those are some grim odds, especially as breast cancer is the most common cause of terminal cancer in women.
I gotta say I have a lot of respect for Jolie for undergoing the procedure, which must have been daunting and something many may not have done out of fear. For example, if I was aware that I was at higher risk of testicular cancer I’m not sure I’d have them removed, I’d probably just bury my head in the sand and hope to beat the odds.
I’ve read in the past that mastectomy’s can have a emotional impact on the women who have them, with many feeling self conscious or “less of a woman” because of the removal of breast tissue, which is rather sad. I think the NHS does offer cosmetic surgery to women who undergo the procedure, and if they don’t they definitely should, as it could be a massive part of improving the quality of life of the cancer survivors.
Of course, not all feel this way and some may choose to not have anything done afterwards, with some even regarding it as a kind of badge of honour. A while back Facebook came under fire for deleting pictures of a cancer survivor’s pictures of her chest tattoo which she’d had done after her mastectomy, however, later they saw common sense and changed their policy. Another cancer survivor, Kelly Donovan posted pictures which received thousands of likes and which she describes as a metaphor for her external transformation (more on Davidson here).
Jolie’s piece raises an important point about genetic testing, which was something I must admit I don’t know much about. In the US the test for the genes that increase the risks costs $3000, which is frankly disgusting. A lot of people just aren’t going to be able to afford that test, and one can only imagine that the chance of getting tested in other parts of the world is even tougher. I’m assume that here in the UK it’s free on the NHS and you can request a referral from your GP.
For British readers the Cancer Research UK website has a page devoted to the genetic links to cancer as well as advice on who should get tested and how it all works.
Jolie draws attention to the injustice of the prohibitive cost of the tests and hopefully this situation will change in the future.
Jolie’s actions and writing about the experience are important, I feel, because they raise awareness about a procedure that many may not have known about and also brings the subject into public discussion, and this may make it easier for women in a similar situation.
Women may get the test because of Jolie’s example and this will be a great help to many as it will either calm their fears or enable them to take steps to reduce the risks like Jolie has, or at least be extra vigilant for the warning signs of the cancer. And nobody can argue that this isn’t a good thing.
So I have a new respect for Jolie as a result of this revelation and think she has handled it all rather well.
Remember folks, keep checking yourself and if in doubt, always go to the doctor. It might be scary and I know that it might seem easier to live on in blissful ignorance, but if you’re ill you’re going to be ill whether the doctor tells you about it or not, and at least if you know what you’ve got you can start fighting against it.
Sorry, if today’s post was a little bit heavy, but I’ve been thinking a lot about it over the last couple of days and I don’t want any of you good people getting ill. And that’s only partly because I don’t want my views to fall any lower.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.