2013-07-14-babylipsWhat do I have in common with Angelina Jolie (besides oversized lips that are apparent even in our baby photos)?

We’re both moms.

We both discovered through DNA testing that we carry the BRCA1 genetic mutation.

We were both told we have an 87 percent chance of contracting breast cancer in our respective lifetimes.

We both opted for a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy to dramatically reduce our risks.

And we have both been criticized for our decisions.

The thing is, as moms, particularly moms of younger children, our motivation to live is greatly intensified. We are generally unwilling to roll the dice and just hope for the best. We will do whatever it takes to be there for our children. Whatever it takes, even if it involves amputation of body parts, permanent scarring, and challenges to our sexuality.

I tend to straddle the line between the world of traditional medicine and the “woo-woo” world of holistic treatment. I usually implement a mixture of both, and am willing to try pretty much any natural remedy for any condition. However, when it comes to a life or death situation, I have learned I do not even internally question whether or not I should take the riskier path. When I learned I had cancer, I was holding my five-day old daughter in my arms, having just come home from the hospital. I could not get hooked up to the chemo drip fast enough. More than ever before, I had an inordinate need to live. It was now my responsibility to do so.

Angelina stated in her New York Times op-ed, “I can tell my children that they don’t need to fear they will lose me to breast cancer.”

I get it. We want to do whatever we can to minimize our children’s worries and fears.

And unlike my prior post-diagnosis surgery, which involved the removal of all of my female reproductive organs, this surgery is proactive rather than reactive. I will not have to worry about a second diagnosis of primary cancer, or two different types of cancer recurring in my body. One was enough.

Maybe if I were younger, single or without children, I might think of taking a wait-and-see, cross-that-bridge-if-we-come-to-it approach, but my circumstances are different now. I want to be there as my daughter grows and develops. I want to see her through her adolescent and teenaged years. I want to watch her graduate high school, pursue a career, get married and have children of her own if that’s what she wants to do. I want to grow old with my husband.

I don’t think of my decision as one based in fear (don’t get me started on Melissa Etheridge), nor do I think that anything I do from a healthy living standpoint can correct a genetic mutation. In fact, I know it will not. I am taking matters into my own hands, given the cold, hard facts of the situation. And it feels good.

I actually have no fear about my upcoming surgery, which will take place in just a few days. I’m ready to get it behind me, and to get on with the business of living.

That’s what we do as parents. We take care of ourselves so that we can be there for our children, just like putting on our own oxygen mask first in the event of a decrease in airplane cabin pressure.

Whatever it takes.

Image via the author.

3 Thoughts on “Me and Angelina: Why I Stand By My Decision to Have Preventative Cancer Surgery

  1. Melissa Etheridge’s response to Angelina’s decision was one of the most heinous, uninformed and potentially damaging pieces of writing on women’s health that I’ve seen in a long time – I’m honestly thankful she doesn’t have the same platform as Jolie so it went somewhat ignored. Good luck with your upcoming surgery – if I had a BRCA mutation I would make absolutely the same decision.

  2. Sheyna Gifford on September 12, 2013 at 3:03 am said:

    Breast enhancement for beautification purposes is an elective, painful and sometimes disfiguring procedure that society at large supports, at least passively. It is frequently considered a vital part of becoming a successful performer, actor, model. In other words, as a path to being admired, it is largely accepted.

    Breast removal is a non-elective, painful and almost universally disfiguring surgery that society is largely silent upon. As a path to multiply ones odds of survival manyfold, it is not particularly encourage.

    What can we make of this?

    Much, but what is most important for us to understand? That we live and we need to live. Most of us will do whatever it takes: accept the organs of strangers, sell our bodies on the streets, sell our organs on the black market, endure years of punishing medical intervention. The list is literally endless.

    Breasts are non-vital organs. The appendix, the gall bladder, a single kidney. Collectively, we barely blink at cutting these away when they are diseased. If they even MIGHT be diseased. We often remove appendices and gall bladders based on symptoms alone, with no true knowledge of whether or not the organ was diseased until after the fact. Why should breasts be any different?

    And even if they were to some extent, who are we, the privileged many not gazing into that bright abyss, to make a judgement?

    Joanna, Angelina, everyone reading this article: you can do whatever you see fit with your breasts, with your hair, with your face, with your life. No one living in this world has a right to tell you otherwise.

    I’ll be thinking of you as you go forward in this. All the best of love and luck to you and your family.

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