Last month, the world learned of Angelina Jolie’s double mastectomy. The Oscar-winning actress underwent surgery after learning that she carries the BRCA1 cancer gene giving her an 87% chance of developing breast cancer. Considering that her mother, Marchelline Bertrand, sadly died from cancer at just 56 years of age, this was obviously a personal choice that was very close to home. Angelina chose to go public with her surgery, in the hope that it would increase awareness of breast cancer and testing for the gene. The decision to have this long and painful procedure was not taken lightly. She hopes that others can learn from her story and know that there are options out there, options that women may have previously feared for reasons of self-confidence. “On a personal note, I do not feel any less of a woman. I feel empowered that I made a strong choice that in no way diminishes my femininity.” She is in no way encouraging women to have surgery but to gain as much information as they can about the disease and their own personal situations.
I am one of the millions in support of Angie’s decision. I think it was very brave to have the surgery and very brave to go public with it. She made an informed, personal choice for herself and her family, something as far as I’m concerned is part of a mother’s natural instinct. To protect her family. True lioness qualities.
So, considering how well received her news was, I was a little taken aback to read about singer-songwriter Melissa Etheridge’s view on Jolie’s surgery. When asked in a recent interview what she thought of Angelina’s decision she responded “I wouldn’t call it the brave choice. I actually think it’s the most fearful choice you can make when confronting anything with cancer.” Etheridge is a breast cancer survivor herself, and of course everyone is entitled to their own opinion. She goes on to say: “My belief is that cancer comes from inside you and so much of it has to do with the environment of your body. It’s the stress that will turn that gene on or not. Plenty of people have the gene mutation and everything but it never comes to cancer so I would say to anybody faced with that, that choice is way down the line on the spectrum of what you can do and to really consider the advancements we’ve made in things like nutrition and stress levels.”
I understand that environment can have a massive impact on your health but her comment on Angelina’s decision seems a little out of place, especially from someone who has had cancer. Etheridge later clarified her comments stating that she was not criticising Angelina’s choice to have surgery just the fact that it was being described as ‘brave’.
It is sad that if you now Google Angelina’s double mastectomy pretty much every article that comes up is focused on this quote from Etheridge. Where’s the compassion and empathy and praise for bringing more awareness to such a hostile cancer? As a woman, a daughter and a mother, I can fully understand why Angelina made this difficult decision.
My mother discovered she had cancer cells at just 32 years old. I am 33. She underwent a hysterectomy (the only option at that time), meaning that she was closing the door to having any more children. But she did it because she had to and because she wanted to, for us. Unlike Angelina, this wasn’t an issue of choice for her, she really had no choice. But it meant that she could see her 10-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter grow up. It meant that she could see me get married and be there for the arrival of all her grandchildren. It meant that she can read Little D bedtime stories and give him kisses and cuddles. It meant that I can call her every day to ask for her advice or cry on her shoulder when I’m feeling sad. It meant that she lived.
I know that my mother and Angelina’s situations are very different, Mum didn’t have a choice but the goal and end result are the same. You want to live, you want to stick around a little longer for these little people you love. Angelina did this for her family, and essentially, so did my Mum.
Known and heralded as a sex symbol the world over, it must have been a difficult decision for Angelina to make. But she made it and shared it with the world and I applaud her for it. Maybe she was ‘fearful’ as Etheridge said, frightened by the possibility that she might not be around for her children as they grow up. And what is wrong with that? She loves them and knows that one of the most important things she can do for them is just be there. Knowing how much my children mean to me, I think I would move Heaven and Earth to keep them safe and make them happy. And if this means removing my breasts, ovaries or uterus, then so be it.
Not only do I think Angelina is brave but I also think she is smart. She has lowered her chance of developing breast cancer to less than 5%. Of course, no one can predict the future, but if you have the option to steer it down a potentially better and longer path, then more power to you.
Selfless, smart and brave. Angelina, I salute you.
More info on breast cancer and the BRCA1 gene can be found here.