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.

20130529-073231.jpg
My Dad as a young man. He died of leukemia in 2004.

The Angie Gene

Talk about a PR windfall. Angelina Jolie, mega-movie star, humanitarian, celebrity mom and fiancée of an equally famous man has suddenly become the face of the BRCA gene world. And what a gorgeous face it is.

This is very good news. Of course it is pretty crappy news for Ms. Jolie and her family. The same crappy news women all over the world deal with each day. Difficult decisions, uncertainty and major life upheaval come with the knowledge of what it means to have this genetic disorder. I am sorry for Angie, but very glad she chose to share her story and I thank her for doing so in such a public way.

The airwaves are filled with Angelina and people everywhere are discussing her family history, cancer risk, choices and treatments. For all those people I have heard criticize or stand in judgement I would politely like to remind you that she did not have to say one word about this to anyone, ever. It could have remained private. Instead, she chose to tell the world her story.

Thank you Angelina Jolie for speaking out. It matters to women like me who face the thorny array of problems that come with being a BRCA mutant. It matters even more to all those who did not even have a clue this genetic order existed until you spoke up. Your candor will save lives.

The Angie gene. I have it too. And I will keep telling my story just as often as anyone will listen. I hope Angelina Jolie will do the same.