From Cara Scharf. Email her at cara[AT]borderstan.com.
Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. I am a breast cancer survivor and carrier of the same gene mutation that prompted Angelina Jolie to have a double mastectomy, which she talked about in last’s Tuesday Op-Ed in The New York Times.
At age 22, a blood test told me I had a mutated BRCA 1 gene. Everyone has BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 genes, but when these genes are mutated, lifetime risk of breast and ovarian cancer shoots way up. I was given two options: remove the body parts that might get cancer (what Jolie did), or be closely monitored. I opted to monitor, but three years later I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and I underwent a double mastectomy.
In light of all of Jolie’s publicity, there are a couple things I think it’s important for everyone to know:
- Please think before you judge – It always pains me to read the comments on articles like Jolie’s because of nasty people who chastise us for making such drastic decisions. No one thinks surgery should be taken lightly. As of 2013, however, it is the best option available to women with BRCA gene mutations, if they don’t want to end up with cancer. If your doctor told you that there was an 80% chance you’d get cancer in your pinky finger, would you consider having it removed?
- Mastectomies are serious business – Most celebrities glaze over their health issues. No one wants to share negative news like hair loss or depression, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Mastectomies are grueling, many people have complications, and there will be lasting physical and emotional scars.
- The media is often wrong – I heard a local news affiliate state that Jolie tested positive for the BRCA gene. As I mentioned above, everyone has the genes, but not everyone has a gene mutation. This is just one example of the media giving inaccurate information, which brings me to my next point:
- Educate yourself – This cannot be stressed enough. There is so much information available about BRCA gene mutations that there is no excuse for ignorance. It is worth it for everyone to explore their family’s medical history and find out whether it might be worthwhile to test for genetic abnormalities, and be sure you have the right support system (doctors, genetic counselors, family members) to help you if you do find something out of the ordinary.