Last week as news spread of Angelina Jolie coming forward about having a "preventative" bilateral mastectomy, I was first shocked because I normally prejudge Hollywood types to be vain and inhuman in many cases. Then I was relieved for her and as a mom of little children, I celebrate what she did.
must digress. After the billions of dollars raised for breast cancer
research and how far we have come in a few decades on breast cancer
treatment, the biggest preventative measure we have is a mutilating
bilateral mastectomy? I try to imagine how fast and furiously scientist
and doctors would work if the only preventative measure for any male
genitalia cancers was surgical castration...
Now back to Ms. Jolie. She apparently tested positive for the
BRCA1 gene which in lay mans terms meant she had an 87% chance of
getting cancer later. Those are horribly sucky odds, and that alone
would make a decision of the magnitude she made much easier (for me at
So what exactly is a mommy to do? I myself have a very long
family history of cancer. It flipping runs rampant and is the scariest
and most horrible thing you can think of for any of your family members
to go through. Every woman older than me that I have a bloodline with
other than my own mother has had breast or some other kind of cancer.
Sow when I was diagnosed with Ductal Carcinoma In Situ - the early
stages of breast cancer, I was not shocked, however I was shocked that I
tested NEGATIVE for BRCA1 and BRCA2. But that did NOT mean I wouldn't
get cancer because I was sitting there in a doctors office WITH cancer!
I listened to a surgeon tell me the different options that I had
as far as treating my cancer. I could have gone lumpectomy with chemo
therapy and radiation, I could have had a mastectomy of the affected
breast with chemo, I could sit and wait it out and see later if it
started to spread (SHOCKED THAT WAS AN OPTION). And then the Big Kahuna
answer came. I could do a double mastectomy, and remove my ovaries,
because my cancer was estrogen fed, and if there were stray cells
anywhere in my body me producing estrogen would feed them. This would
give me a 95% chance of SURVIVAL - it meant I GOT TO LIVE!!! - So I
said "Can we do it tomorrow?"
Now my decision may not be for everyone. I looked at our life.
I had a 1 and a 3 year old - at the time only one had autism. I have a
husband that was devastated by autism, this nearly crushed him and I
knew he could not handle months and months of chemo treatment as well as
caring for a special needs child. I have experience family members and
friends getting chemo, and it makes you so sick, and it's very painful
process. I didn't want that for myself or my family.
So for my life and my children, what worked best for our family
was the decision to have a bilateral mastectomy and hysterectomy, at 41
years old. I was thrown into menopause, and thankfully there was no
cancer in my lymph nodes, so I was basically a surgical case. I went
through reconstruction, and the whole process took about 9 months. I
worked a little slower than Ms. Jolie because I did have family help,
but I did not have the army of hired help I'm sure she had.
What my decision did was give me relief that I will not always be
worrying with the breast cancer come back (even though it is a scary
thought in my head daily). It made me want to be a healthy mom for my
kids. It has made me a learning machine about my health and options, it
has made me a better advocate for my children.
I admire Ms.
Jolie for taking this brave step, but remind other women that it does
happen amongst us. It wasn't the pretty celebration that it is
publicized to be, it was emotional, and scary, and shook this woman to
the core, and took all the parts that make you a woman away. After the
shock and awe of all of that, you realize you where you were the day
before the cancer call came in. You still have 2 kids that need you, a
husband that loves you (even though this was a huge struggle for him he
handled it well). AND I GOT THE BEST GIFT. I GOT TO LIVE!!!!
I didn't want to just survive the cancer I wanted to LIVE, and raise my
kids, and be silly, and happy, and enjoy the beautiful life, that may
not be Hollywood, but it is awesome nonetheless.