Mother-of-six Angelina Jolie shocked fans with the news of her recent preventative double mastectomy. After testing positive for a faulty BRCA1 gene, the Academy Award-winning actress put the spotlight on the sensitive procedure that many other women have elected to have.
Angelina is not the first famous woman to open up about this surgery. Let’s take a look at five celebrity moms who have undergone the procedure.
After losing her mom to ovarian cancer and then learning that she has the BRCA1 gene mutation, Angelina Jolie, 37, opted to have a preventive double mastectomy. She also plans to have her ovaries removed.
In May 2013, the Salt star went public about the procedure in an op-ed piece, writing that she felt “empowered” by her decision. “Life comes with many challenges,” she wrote. “The ones that should not scare us are the ones we can take on and take control of.”
At age 36, Christina Applegate was diagnosed with breast cancer in April 2008. At first, she opted to have a lumpectomy. But after learning she was a carrier of the BRCA1 gene mutation, she chose to have both breasts removed in a bilateral mastectomy, followed by reconstructive surgery a few months later.
“It came on really fast. It was one of those things that I woke up and it felt so right,” she told Oprah Winfrey. “It just seemed like, ‘I don’t want to have to deal with this again. I don’t want to keep putting that stuff in my body. I just want to be done with this.’ And I was just going to let them go.”
She added: “It can be very painful. It’s also a part of you that’s gone, so you go through a grieving process.”
“At the end, to be honest, all it came down to was just choosing to live, and not looking over my shoulder for the rest of my life,” Giuliana told TODAY.
“In helping other women, you end up helping yourself,” she said. “You end up being able to validate one of the most painful times in your life by realizing that maybe all the pain and the fear and the tears were worth it.”
The decision to undergo a bilateral mastectomy was an easy one for Wanda Sykes. After being diagnosed with DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ), the comedienne wanted to give herself “the best odds” of beating the noninvasive breast cancer and sticking around for her partner Alex, and their 2-year-old twins Olivia and Lucas for many years to come.
“I made my decision because I love life,” Wanda, 47, said of her double mastectomy.
“My first thought was, ‘Really? Me, breast cancer?’” Wanda recalls of the day doctors discovered the cancer after her breast reduction surgery. “I just couldn’t believe it. But I knew this was doable.”
In November 2012, The Talk host Sharon Osbourne revealed she had undergone a preventive double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery at age 60 after learning she was at increased risk for breast cancer.
“As soon as I found out I had the breast cancer gene, I thought, ‘The odds are not in my favor,’” Sharon told Hello! “I’ve had cancer before, and I didn’t want to live under that cloud. I decided to just take everything off, and had a double mastectomy.”
She added: “For me, it wasn’t a big decision, it was a no-brainer. I didn’t want to live the rest of my life with that shadow hanging over me. I want to be around for a long time and be a grandmother.”
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In a welcome piece of good news from Washington today, the Department of Health and Human Services has proposed major new regulations to help protect children in child care centers and family child care homes. “Many children already benefit from the excellent care of high-quality child care providers who are meeting or exceeding the proposed requirements,” said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “However, too many children remain in settings that do not meet minimum standards of health and safety. These basic rules ensure that providers take necessary basic steps to shield children from avoidable tragedy.”
I met recently with parents whose children had died in child care because these types of regulations did not exist. These parents have been working to help make sure that a similar tragedy wouldn’t happen to other families, and their advocacy has paid off. Child Care Aware of America has led the charge for safety and quality improvements, and we’ve been privileged to partner with them on their efforts. Most parents would be shocked to learn about the current minimal standards.
For all child care providers who accept federal funding through the Child Care and Development Fund, the new regulations would require:
Health and safety training in certain areas
Compliance with state and local fire, health and building codes
You might not like some of her movies. You might think she’s a little out there (at least during those Billy Bob Thornton years.) You might be a little peeved that she can take care of six kids and still look poised and breathtakingly beautiful all the time.
Whether you like her or not, one thing is for sure: Angelina Jolie is a hero. She’s using her celebrity for good by telling women with a genetic predisposition for breast cancer that they are not alone. Some may fear dealing with tough decisions alone, not realizing there are thousands upon thousands of other women who completely understand what they’re going through.
In today’s issue of The New York Times, Jolie publicly shared her very personal decision to have a prophylactic double mastectomy. As she says in her op-ed piece, “I choose not to keep my story private because there are many women who do not know that they might be living under the shadow of cancer. It is my hope that they, too, will be able to get gene tested, and that if they have a high risk they, too, will know that they have strong options.”
Jolie’s letting women around the world know that they no longer have to live in fear of breast cancer. They have options. They can determine cancer risk by testing for a BRCA mutation and taking charge of their health in ways that previous generations never could. Jolie knows this all too well. When she tested positive for a BRCA1 gene, she knew she had an 87% risk of developing breast cancer and a 44% chance of developing ovarian cancer. She knew she was a previvor — someone who has not had cancer but who has a high risk for developing it. Since her mom died of ovarian cancer just six years ago, Jolie knew that it was a major red flag that there might be a BRCA mutation in the family. After finding out that she did inherit the mutation, she decided to do something about it.
Of course, there are naysayers: “I can’t relate to Angelina Jolie. She’s a celebrity with endless resources. Her life is nothing like mine.” But getting a double mastectomy is a very difficult, personal decision for any woman, as I learned interviewing the five women featured in my book, Previvors: Facing the Breast Cancer Gene and Making Life-Changing Decisions, all of whom had to make choices — some had surgery, some did not — just like Jolie. Sure, she may be a famous, multimillionaire engaged to Brad Pitt, but Jolie’s still a woman taking steps that can potentially save her life. And, as a mother, Jolie decided she would do what she needed to do to protect her children (just like any mother would). She is showing women that, after surgery, it is still possible to look and feel feminine and whole. She is also showing women that it’s possible to make tough decisions and still have the support of a loving partner.
I thank Jolie for sharing her story and for encouraging women to learn about the ways they can protect themselves. She is incredibly brave for doing so, particularly since her journey is not over. Thank you, Angelina Jolie, for putting such a public face to the word “previvor.”
It’s been said that “a mother is only as happy as her least happy child,” and it’s so true that children’s mental health affects the whole family. If your child suffers from anxiety or depression or ADHD, you want to get her the best treatment just like you would if she had diabetes or asthma or cancer. And yet, stigma still does exist, and can get in the way of addressing a child’s problem. In our recent survey of more than 1,600 parents conducted in partnership with the Child Mind Institute, 48% said they think parents are to blame for children who exhibit disruptive behavior.
In the wake of the tragedy in Newtown, there has been a call for improved mental health care—and mental health advocates are seizing this opportunity to talk about the importance of effective diagnosis and treatment. Indeed, our survey found that 60% of parents are concerned that kids who have a mental illness like Asperger’s Syndrome or depression are more likely to hurt themselves or others, and 61% of parents said that parents of children with mental health problems should not be allowed to have a gun in their home. However, the truth is that most violent crimes are not actually committed by people who are mentally ill, and kids with mental health issues can grow up to lead happy, productive lives when they get proper care.
“The Newtown shooting has lead to a national conversation about mental health—not just to prevent potential violence, which is very rare, but to prevent suffering, which is very common and often very treatable,” says Parents advisor Harold Koplewicz, M.D., president of the Child Mind Institute. “What we hope will come from the tragedy is openness that starts in each family and community, when we acknowledge our worries about our own children, and help make other parents feel safe enough to speak up about their worries, too.”
One piece of good news from our survey: 66% of respondents do believe that parents are now more likely to seek help if their child’s behavior worries them. We’ve also been encouraged to learn that an increasing number of pediatricians now have mental-health professionals working right in their office. Not only does that make access to care easier, but it sends a message that mental heath is just as important as physical health.
You can participate in the Speak Up For Kids campaign and learn more from the online events being hosted by the Child Mind Institute in honor of National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Month.
The first few times I saw news reports about 3D printing, I thought it was pretty ingenious. People could use it to build 3D models of vases or even, a 3D model of a fetus from an ultrasound.
But now, I’m completely blown away by what it can do. This past weekend on CBS News Sunday Morning, they showcased how scientists are using 3D printers and living cells to craft new human tissue. So far, they’ve used it to build tumors from cancer patients’ biopsied tumors, which will enable them to easily grow several copies of the tumor and test out a number of different treatments at once, to figure out what’s going to work best on each patient’s particular cells. But the other application they showcased is the one that intrigued me more: They grew a human ear.
You see, my daughter was born with microtia, a birth defect that impacts her ear. She has a normal ear on her left, but her right ear is small and misshapen, and there’s no ear canal. So far, it hasn’t impacted her life too much—she hears pretty well (better if she actually wears her hearing aid), she has both of her ears pierced, and other than a few questions from her classmates, it’s pretty much a nonissue for her. We love her “special ear,” and she knows it’s just something unique about her. But I know how kids can be cruel, and I worry that as she hits the teen years, she’s going to become self-conscious about it.
Right now, there are two ways people can replace a microtic ear with one that looks more like a traditional ear. They can get a prosthetic, which looks more natural but usually has to be removed for bathing, swimming and sleep. Or they can go through a series of several painful surgeries to sculpt a new ear, using either Medpor, a medical-grade artificial scaffolding, or a rib graft. But the results of the plastic surgery aren’t always great, and I’ve seen too many ears that look “off.” I wouldn’t subject my daughter to that without her being totally on board with it.
But with the 3D printing, a sample of cells could be cultured, then “printed” out in the exact shape of her ear. She could have a brand new ear in a few weeks—and it would simply be one surgery to remove the microtic ear and place the new ear beneath the skin.
What’s even cooler is this new bionic ear that someone else created, an amalgam of the 3D printing using living tissue and technology. So maybe she can skip the hearing aid and hear on her own, through her new bionic ear.
I’m already dreaming up ways that this technology could eventually be used—to grow new body parts for people who lost a finger or a hand. To build new kidneys or a new lung for someone in need of a transplant. To repair a broken spinal cord. But right now, I’m just focusing on that miraculous homegrown ear.
Image: Lawrence Bonassar, associate professor of biomedical engineering at Cornell University, with an artificial ear grown using 3D printing, by Lindsay France/Cornell University
Six years ago today, my husband and I officially put our hats (and about 75 pages of documents) into the ring in the hopes of adopting a second child from China. And if we hadn’t been lucky enough to find our daughter on our adoption agency’s list of children with known medical needs, we would still be waiting for China to match us with our child—with no end in sight to our wait. (Currently, the people at the “front” of the line for adopting from China have already been waiting six and a half years.)
We are not an anomaly, as a new documentary, Stuck, shows in dramatic detail. New regulations put into place by the U.S. and other countries to help stop corruption in international adoption haven’t been as successful at stopping it as everyone had hoped. Instead, it’s slowed down the process to adopt a child to the point where it now takes nearly 3 years to complete an adoption—and it’s led to many more children growing up in institutions, where they are often neglected and left ill-equipped for life after the orphanage. The documentary offers sad glimpses of life in the orphanages in Vietnam, Ethiopia, Romania and Haiti—and tells the stories of several families who were “stuck” at various points in their adoption stories.
I have to admit—the trailer for the documentary made me worry it was a little bit too much in the vein of “Let the Americans come in and save these poor orphans.” But after watching the movie, it’s clearly more balanced. Its message is that every child should have a family—and if one isn’t available in a child’s home country, if there’s another family with open arms across the border, let the child go there rather than languish in an orphanage.
If you’re considering international adoption—or know someone who is—definitely check this movie out. It’s a great way to get a real sense of what’s happening in international adoption right now.
Most Restaurant Kids’ Meals Packed With Calories
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Genetic Variants and Wheezing Put Kids At Risk For Asthma
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Quality Preschool Benefits Poor and Affluent Kids, Study Finds
Quality prekindergarten programs can boost children’s school skills whether the kids come from poor or well-off homes, a new study shows. (via NBC News)
Bulletproof Backpacks for Kids: Cautious Protection or Feeding Anxiety?
A wave of parents are willing to try the extreme and controversial measure of making their children wear bulletproof materials to protect them at school in the wake of the shooting in Newtown, Conn., and other school shootings. But gun control advocates see this as a disturbing sign of how willing we have become to accept gun violence as the norm. (via ABC News)
Warren Buffett On Teaching Kids Smart Investing, With Cartoons
Kids will learn practical and valuable lessons about money management and can easily relate to the easy-going and fun, animated series. (via Forbes)
Chicago School Closings Provoke Parents’ Confusion, Anger
Nanette Fouch does not understand why her granddaughter may have to transfer from a Chicago elementary school earmarked to close partly because of poor academics to one where students scored even lower on a recent standardized test. (via Huffington Post)
Violent Video Games are a Risk Factor for Criminal Behavior and Aggression, New Evidence Shows
People are quick to point the finger or dismiss the effect of violent video games as a factor in criminal behavior. New evidence from Iowa State researchers demonstrates a link between video games and youth violence and delinquency. (via ScienceDaily)
A High School Where the Students are the Teachers
If high school students took charge of their education with limited supervision, would they learn? A Massachusetts school is finding out. (via TIME)
Study Clarifies Link Between Fertility Treatments and Neurological Problems in Kids
Children born from in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments have shown a higher risk of developmental problems, but what is responsible for the heightened risk? (via TIME)
Albany Moves to End Standoff in New York City Over Teachers Evaluations
Amid rising concerns about the promotion and consumption of energy drinks, researchers released new data Thursday suggesting energy drinks may negatively affect heart rhythm and blood pressure. (via The New York Times)