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“… I Decided To Be Proactive.” Why Angelina Jolie (And I) Chose To Remove Our Own Breasts


Photo credit: Creative Commons

“… I Decided To Be Proactive.”
Why Angelina Jolie (And I) Chose To Remove Our Own Breasts


I’m waking up this morning to headline making news.. Actress Angelina Jolie revealed in a New York Times Op-Ed piece that she quietly had a preventive mastectomy a few weeks ago. While the rest of the world watches, some applauding her decision, others wondering why on earth someone would do this, I say….

I understand.

I truly, truly understand.

Many of you know that I had the same procedure a few years ago. Like Angelina Jolie, I have a mother with breast cancer. Unlike Angelina Jolie, my father also had the disease and I did not test positive for BRCA 1 or 2, the genetic mutation closely associated with breast and ovarian cancer.

The words in her op-ed piece brought me back to that time, swirling uncertainty, trying to deal with the demands of (and losing) a high-profile job, trying to take care of two little kids who desperately needed me in their lives. Trying to take care of me.

Like Jolie, I had a supportive partner in Buff Parham, which made a difficult decision, a tiny bit easier. He was there standing over my bed at Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital in New York, the moment I awoke from surgery. He’s been by my side ever since, just like before my surgery.

Jolie talks about her kids, how they helped her during the recovery, another thing I could totally relate to. I remember coming home from the hospital, days after my 5 1/2 hour procedure, to the wide eyes and wonder of Casey and Cole. Instead of giving them something to fear, I used it as an empowering, teachable moment; I let them watch as I changed the bandages and, after washing their hands very well, I let them help me empty the drains that protruded from each breast. Doing that made them feel more in control and made the procedure less frightening.

Control over the kind of life we want to live is ultimately what this is about. While we may not be able to completely rule out getting cancer, there are things we can do to lessen our chances.

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You need to know who in your family had cancer and what type it was. Certain cancers are related so sit down with people who know and get some answers. Make sure you tell your doctor during routine check-ups.

Read more: Survivor Stories 2012 : Leslie Haywood



Simply put: Early detection saves lives. Mammography technology, though not perfect, is the best tool we have to date to find breast cancer early. That means getting regular and routine mammograms, beginning at age 40, according to the American Cancer Society, unless you have a family history, in which case you need to talk to your doctor on when to start.

I can’t tell you how crazy it makes me when I hear people say (and they do), “I don’t have mammograms because I don’t want to know.” Oh you’ll know soon enough. Why not make it early so you have a fighting chance at beating the disease? (Breast cancer caught early has a 97% cure rate)

Read more: Survivor Stories 2012: Josette Chambers


PicMonkey Collage

This is fairly common knowledge but is worth repeating. Don’t smoke. Don’t drink excessively . Keep your weight under control with regular exercise as more research shows that can also reduce the risk of disease.

Read more:  Survivor Stories: Marion Pollock


So to Angelina Jolie I say, I get it; I’m standing on my wobbly chair, applauding you for your courage in making this decision and in being so open about it. For the rest of you, I’m getting down off my wobbly chair to say, I don’t want to hear, “I don’t have time to see the doctor.. I’m too busy with the kids.”

Taking care of you IS taking care of the kids.

Now, get it done.

More from GEM:

Survivor Stories 2012: Eileen Fuentes

Survivor Stories 2012: Lori Kittelberg

Survivor Stories 2012: Judith Kolich





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