The Angelina Effect: A Few More Thoughts

Only a short time after Angelina Jolie’s bombshell op-ed in the New York Times appeared, she lost her aunt to breast cancer at age 61. Her mother died from ovarian cancer at age 57. All three women in Angelina Jolie’s family have a defective BRCA1 gene, just like three of the women in my family. We know her pain.

In the comments, interviews and editorials since Ms. Jolie announced her choice to undergo what my docs simply call “the BRCA surgeries” there have been many who do not agree that lopping off healthy body parts to reduce cancer risk is a good thing. Of course it isn’t. It is an unfortunate reality that preventative surgery is the best of the limited weapons at the disposal of high risk patients. What really sucks is that all the choices are awful.

As I approach the fifteen year mark as a breast cancer survivor, I am profoundly grateful just to be here to complain about these issues. My relative with ovarian cancer has put up one hell of a fight for the last five years. I doubt she has five more. Many of the experts I have heard in the Angelina uproar say that those BRCA positive patients who witness close relatives suffer with cancer are more likely to choose prophylactic measures. No shit. Cancer is brutal and very, very ugly. No one likes to talk about that. Think losing your breasts is bad? Try the monster that is Stage IV breast cancer or advanced ovarian cancer on for size.

That is all for today’s rant.

My Dad as a young man. He died of leukemia in 2004.


7 comments on “The Angelina Effect: A Few More Thoughts

  1. Scorchy says:

    And how! All of the choices are awful.

  2. BOOM! This is AWESOME!

  3. PS, I have no family history of cancer. And while I don’t have the defective BRCA, I have the PTEN mutation which is just as much a pain in the A** as BRCA and others. If I had to see the beast of Stage IV breast cancer, like you mentioned….would it make my decision easier? Probably? Maybe? Who effing knows. It just sucks. Plain and simple. Thanks for giving it a voice.

  4. joelleburnette says:

    As I have written many times in the past month since AJ’s announcement, I’m glad she came forward to tell her BRCA story. And to the people who think it isn’t right to cut off healthy parts to avoid cancer, I say, when you have a family history of aggressive cancers killing off members of your family (or at least making them suffer terribly in order to survive), then you can decide if it is a bad thing to have prophylactic surgeries.

    Just like thousands of other women, I opted to remove my breasts/ovaries after testing BRCA positive. I agree with you…the decision to cut off your body’s cancer factories is one that sucks–for a cancer patient, or for a BRCA-positive patient.

    I never got to meet my dad’s mom and sister, because they died from breast cancer before I was born. His sister was 32 when she died, leaving behind her husband and their two young children. If my aunt Sherry had known her only daughter would get breast cancer (BC), I’m sure she would have wanted her to get tested and remove those cancer factories in order to prevent the pain and suffering she had experienced.

    When Sherry’s daughter was battling her BC, my only living sister was fighting her own aggressive BC at the age of 32. That was her first of two cancers. After my sister was diagnosed with her second BC, it was time to get tested for this genetic mutation. I was an emotional wreck upon hearing the results and only worried about how this would impact the future of my daughter and son.

    It seemed like a no-brainer to remove the parts, but you must settle these horrible decisions in your mind before anyone comes near you with a scalpel. And the longer it takes, you wake up every day feeling like a ticking bomb. I wrote about that experience in my book “Cancer Time Bomb: How the BRCA Gene Stole My Tits and Eggs.” But this knowledge doesn’t just impact you. The experience extends to your children, husband, parents, extended family and dear friends.

    There’s no stunt involved in this process. It doesn’t matter how rich, famous or beautiful you are; if you have cancer in your family coupled with this genetic mutation, your risk of NOT getting cancer is slim.

    I’m glad for the attention AJ has brought to this health issue. If it helps prevent even one cancer, or one death from cancer, than it is worth every word she says. And who knows; perhaps all the extra attention to the high price of this life-changing genetic test will shame the company controlling this test into lowering their price gouging fee so more people have the same opportunity as AJ to take control of their health.

    Thanks for keeping the discussion going.

    Joelle Burnette

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