This week, I’ve invited Angelina Jolie.
The media went haywire last May when Angelina Jolie announced that she’d had a double mastectomy…just in case. I want to share the learning & inspiration that Angelina’s case (since we’re having dinner together, I don’t feel a need to call her Ms. Jolie) has ignited in me since then.
I must admit, that when I first read her op-ed in The New York Times, I felt extremely uncomfortable. There was something quite moving and powerful in what she was expressing, and yet rereading it again this morning, it still doesn’t sit easily with me.
So, you ask, why do I want to uphold her as an example of my deep values?
Perhaps it’d be easier if I explain what bothers me about the announcement.
- Because so many women (and men) admire Angelina Jolie as an icon of feminine beauty and sexuality, it bothers me to think that women all over the world are going to put themselves through undue stress & medical procedures, just because she did it.
- It bothers me to think that women may believe that radical surgery is the only answer to a potential risk for cancer.
- It makes me wonder if Angelina, and other women who’ve undergone complete mastectomies, will now neglect her breast health simply because she no longer has breast tissue.
Because, let me make one thing clear: having healthy breasts does not only mean being cancer-free.
- Will Angelina continue to address the lifestyle choices and issues in her life that would set the stage for cancer in general?
- It irks me that the language of BRCA gene testing talks about “diagnosing” a certain “mutation” – language that implies that having the gene is a disease in itself, and that the person who has that particular gene is not normal.
This last bit came to light when I started reading a little more extensively into what’s involved when a person is a possible carrier of the BRCA1 & BRCA2 gene.
Which brings me to an important point I’ve learned since pondering and reading more about this:
Even though women with the gene can have up to an 85% chance of breast cancer, depending on her age, “only 5-10% of breast cancers and 14% of ovarian cancers occur from a genetic predisposition – the rest do not.”1
These facts remind us that we need to address proper breast health and cancer prevention regardless of whether we carry the gene.
Where I see the power in Angelina’s choice:
- I respect that such a prominent personality told the world that she’d made a deeply thought-out decision for herself, based on her body, her history, her ideals, and the support of her family. Get it: it was her individual choice. Right for her. I hope it inspires more of the same
- I applaud her choice to undergo the procedure at a specialized breast clinic that offers a full palette of medical, nutrition, alternative and psychological care for its patients. They offer testing, supervision and prevention, not just surgery.
- I admire the fact that this icon of femininity has been able to stand up and show the world that she is not her breasts. That beauty and sex appeal (hers, yours, mine) lie deeper than her tits (or her ass or her full lips) – a fact that we sometimes forget as a society.
I guess that’s one part of Angelina, of all of us, that I want to celebrate today: we all contain the essence of Rati, Hindu goddess of love, carnal desire, lust, passion and sexual pleasure. No matter the size, shape or tone of any of our delicious curves, we are worthy objects of love & desire, including our own.
- I love that Angelina’s coming forward opens the conversation we need to be having around our health as women in general, as well as our breast health. I pray it also opens the debate for adequate (breast) health care for women of less affluent means – care that goes beyond an annual mammogram.
We’re around the corner from October, Breast Health Awareness Month. Let’s continue the conversation below in the comments, or on my Facebook page.
For those of you in Montreal, the conversation will happen at Studio Energii: The Good Heath Starts Here series of talks continues in October with Breast Food for Life, a discussion of lifestyle practices for enhancing breast health, and Marvelous Melons & Perfect Plums, a taste of the deeper significance of our breasts and their health.
Click here for more information and to sign up.
In my next blog, read ways of loving and caring for breasts beyond, and despite, the risks & fear of cancer.
1. From the blog for the Pink Lotus Breast Center, retrieved September 16, 2013
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Great post. I feel like I have some good starting points on research that I’d like to do. Although I’m religious about self care… I really don’t know too much of the facts. Thank you for this post!
All part of the learning process for all of us, Helene. And thanks for bringing up the point that this is a part of self-care!
Cathy, what a beautifully written post! I loved the many considerations you listed and loved your many perspectives. Thank you for articulating so many wonderful thoughts and ideas!
Thanks, April. I guess it’s all a part of sorting out the issues and considerations for myself.