I woke up this morning and read about Ms Jolie’s brave and I daresay, wise decision, to have a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy.
To most people who don’t have high risk factors or the disease, this might seem extreme. In fact, Peggy Orenstein’s recent piece in the NY Times suggested how “pink awareness” has led to an epidemic of overtreatment for breast cancer; interesting coming from a survivor, but her opinion, nonetheless. The article was well researched but seemed to have an angry tone that I just could not get past. It also suggested, erroneously, that young women were now afraid of their breasts because of all the hype. Well, Ms Orenstein, young women under the age of 40 are the fastest growing segment in the development of advanced breast cancer. So I’m okay with them being a little scared. It sucks to die before your 40th birthday.
Talk about timing: I spent this Saturday as the Honorary Co-chair for the Komen CT Race for the Cure in Connecticut, and spoke to so many women and yes, men, fighting this disease at all stages: from fear and sadness from loss of a loved one- all the way through Stage IV terminal. Some call themselves “survivors” if they are currently cancer-free, but others are like me, still in the fight, or “in the soup” as I like to say. And I will be for the rest of my now-shortened life because I am Stage IV. Not so, my mother, who lives in fear of a third recurrence at 82 years old. She calls herself a survivor.
The bottom line is that every case, every woman and man, indeed, every genetic mutation causing this wretched disease is unique to the individual. If you are a woman with any risk factors, even if they are not as high as Angelina’s, the decision is between you and your doctors to determine the best path for your peace of mind and more importantly, your long-term health. And I use the plural “doctors” because you should speak to more than one. There is no more personal choice than deciding to voluntarily amputate a precious part of your body in advance of disease. There are no RULES. So everyone who wants to find a magic formula to make themselves feel better about this will have to wait a long time – and your judgment of others who choose this excruciatingly difficult path should not be anything short of kind support. I don’t believe in “over-treating” either; but when you can’t effectively predict what the enemy is going to do, you go with the data you have.
This is an art; not a science. Even after you’ve been treated with the best of what the medical community has to offer, it can still come back. It does for too many of us; 40,000 people a year still die from breast cancer in this county alone and that number is not going down. Nor is it going away. No one is immune. Not even the most beautiful woman in the world.
We’ve got your back, Angie.