Whether or not you believe that Angelina Jolie’s recent health decisions were based in a huge marketing scheme for a gene patent, there is another side to the entire story. Actually, more than one “other side” to that whole story. This is just my experience, my side, of what can take place. I am just a regular person: no fame, no contract with any medical community or corporation.
I was twenty-eight years old when I had my second child. It had been four years since the birth of my first child. I was living back in my “hometown” (not the city of my birth, but living near my parents again), and had my same ob/gyn with whom I had begun my health journey.
This doctor had been my mother’s doctor as well, for her second round with the monster known as breast cancer. He was very well aware of the “cancer family tree” and all of it’s hideous branches.
At my six week follow up to my son’s birth, I plainly asked my doctor to order whatever tests were necessary to get a double mastectomy before I had breast cancer. I remember that moment clearly. He stared at me in absolute shock, and then informed me that I was “overreacting” and my request was “way too extreme.”
Six years later, I found a lump in my left breast. I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was only thirty-four: nine years younger than my mother’s first diagnosis. By then, my mother had had genetic testing, and had found she was a carrier of the mutated BRCA1 gene. My surgical oncologist took one look at my family history (other than my mother and my aunt, no woman made it past the age of 51, due to breast and ovarian cancer) and told me she needed to order a BRCA test. I told her, quite calmly considering the circumstances, that I wanted her to remove both breasts, and my ovaries too. She supported my request, she fought my HMO and the opinions of some of my loved ones, and listened to her patient. We discovered that I, too, shared what Angelina Jolie has called a “faulty” BRCA1 gene.
As my oncologist told me then, I was the only one who could determine what qualified as an acceptable risk for my health.
I had my bilateral mastectomy, and a lymph node was removed. Invasive tissue was found, and I had eight rounds of chemotherapy. My children watched me go through surgery and then lose my hair. They asked me if my battle with cancer meant that they are going to have cancer, too. The most frustrating part for me was that my cancer journey DID NOT HAVE TO BE THE WAY IT WAS! If the doctor who perceived me as an extremist had listened to me, and acted on my request, I could have moved forward with a prophylactic surgery. At that point, the tumor would have been small. There’s a very good chance that I would not have needed chemotherapy.
After chemotherapy, I completed reconstructive surgery. Then I followed up with a radical hysterectomy. I have taken every controllable risk factor and addressed it head-on with an amazing medical team, and the overwhelming support of my partner, my children, and my parents. Do many people think I am crazy? Undoubtedly. Does it matter? Absolutely not.
I will not succumb to cancer. I will not leave my children. I will break the family pattern and history, just as my mother has done.
Thank you, Angelina Jolie, for what you have shared with the world. Your courage, your grace, your proactive choice about your health are a benefit to us all. I would say that there is a benefit, no matter what the underlying motivation was for this choice.
Ladies, monitor your health. Collect as much information as you possibly can. Arm yourself with knowledge about your own body, and your options. There is no wrong decision here, only the decision that is right for you.
Originally published on Yahoo Contributor Network, 8/3/2013