Well I think I have finally recovered from the A-Z Challenge and am ready to post again. I did not set out to make this a blog about cancer, but Angelina Jolie's recent revelation about her prophylactic surgery is too topical and too close to home to not write about it.
Like Angelina, I too carry the BRCA1 gene mutation.
Unlike Angelina, I had two primary breast cancers which made my decision for bilateral mastectomies a relatively easy one.
Like Angelina, I had immediate reconstructive surgery.
Unlike Angelina, the entire world was not in a position to judge my decisions.
Like Angelina, I didn't want to be afraid of getting (more) cancer.
Unlike Angelina, the majority of people supported any treatment decision I made because I HAD cancer.
Like Angelina, I want to live a long and happy life.
Unfortunately, I have read a few Facebook posts and articles that have judged Angelina's decision harshly and to be honest, such views make me sick to my stomach. There appear to be many misconceptions about genetic mutations. One such misconception is that we all carry the BRCA1 genetic mutation and that we can switch it on and off based on our lifestyle choices, meaning that each individual is literally able to control whether or not they get cancer. Please, let me refute this claim.
Firstly, we certainly all DO NOT carry the BRCA1 genetic mutation. We do all however, have the BRCA1 gene. This is one important gene as it is responsible for gobbling up any breast cancer cells to prevent a tumour growing. When someone like Ange and I have a faulty BRCA1 gene, that means that our gobbling of breast cancer cell ability goes array and unfortunately doesn't always work - hence, the increased chance (up to 87% more likely) of getting breast cancer. The number of people with faulty genes is minimal. It is unlikely that you will have a genetic mutation in your BRCA1 genes.
Secondly, the decision to remove healthy body parts, particularly body parts that are so closely linked with our gender and sexuality (not to mention career, in Ange's case), is not a simple one. As I mentioned, my situation was much more straightforward. I do not envy anyone who has to make the decision to remove their breasts or ovaries in case cancer appears. Psychologically, that must be a much more difficult dilemma. And if not the decision to have the surgery, then the decision of when.
Early intervention is so vital. Breast cancer is a disease that CAN be cured if it is diagnosed and treated early enough. Angelina is not leaving anything to chance. She made an empowered choice to minimise her risk, effectively controlling her future health outcomes.
Fear can paralyse many and make them stand in judgement, as if belittling someone else's choice protects them from ever facing the same fate. Genetic mutations are inherited randomly. They are nobody's fault.
I am attending Sam's "after party" today. She was diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago, just like me. But her's was found a little late and had already travelled throughout her body providing her with an arduous battle over the past 3 years. She died on May 8th, aged 43 and leaves behind two young twin boys, a teenage daughter and a loving husband.
Sam would have given anything to be able to make a choice like Angelina and still be here today.
- I started this blog as I entered my 40th year, and now firmly in my 40s, I continue to learn so much about life. I'm learning that life rarely goes according to plan and that there's something new to learn every single day, be it a subtle nudge or a smack in the face.... This is my blog about muddling through my 40s-working hard, writing a book, being an ammateur photographer, trying to exercise and eat well, endeavouring to be the world's best aunt, as well as having fun and laughing out loud every single day.