How Angelina Jolie’s preventive double mastectomy has changed the conversation about breast cancer
When Angelina Jolie announced her preventive double mastectomy in yesterday’s New York Times, the almost-instant reactions were unanimous: Jolie was praised for her courage in both having the surgery and opening up to the public about it. Today that openness has continued, with Jolie’s doctor at the Pink Lotus Breast Center posting further details about the decision making process and medical procedures the actress undertook. It is by far the most detailed account we’ve ever read of any celebrity’s private medical information—to the point that you actually have to remind yourself while reading that it’s specifically about Angelina Jolie.
While Jolie’s double mastectomy makes headlines all over the world, other women with “the breast cancer gene” are now coming forward to talk about their own experiences. As FASHION’s health editor Rani Sheen pointed out, “It’s pretty mind-blowing that with access to super advanced medical testing and treatment (and money to take advantage of it) you can reduce the risk of breast cancer from 87 per cent to 5 per cent—although any doctor will admit those numbers are mere predictions It must be a huge relief to be able to opt for that in the face of such frightening information.”
This morning, CBC Radio’s The Current conducted a panel discussion with three women, all of whom have a family history of breast and ovarian cancer. Jolie’s op-ed may have made the decision to undergo a preventive double mastectomy seem quite black and white, but The Current’s discussion reveals that it’s one fraught with many, many complex variables. (You can listen to the entire segment here.)
Meanwhile, The Cut just posted a first-person account from a 34-year old woman who recently underwent a preventative double mastectomy, detailing both her reasons for choosing the surgery and the gruelling recovery process:
“The recovery was way, way worse than I imagined. I went home after one night, and threw up nonstop. I was so severely sick. My parents and husband took care of the kids, while I cried and puked in a pitch-black room for days. Between the anesthesia and pain killers, I was just wrecked. I called my sister and said it was the worst decision I ever made.”
(Thankfully, after the healing process was over she didn’t regret it at all. “It’s crazy—you go from constant surveillance and fear, to this great sense of relief.”)
By opening up about something very personal and drastic, Angeline Jolie has certainly changed the conversation about taking control of your health. Not only that, she’s given those without international notoriety a platform to share their own experiences and opinions. We may have thought Jolie was powerful before, but clearly we’re just starting to see how far her influence can go.