Tuesday, May 14th, 2013
Editor’s Note: This guest post was written by Dina Roth Port, mom of two children and frequent contributor to Parents. She is also the author of Previvors: Facing the Breast Cancer Gene and Making Life-Changing Decisions.
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.”
More about breast cancer on Parents.com
Image: Angelina Jolie in Berlin via Shutterstock.
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Monday, August 8th, 2011
Unfortunately I’ve had breast cancer on my mind in a big way this summer. My mom is an 11-year survivor, having been diagnosed at age 47, which is why my gynecologist has been gently pushing me for the past two years to get tested for the breast cancer (BRCA) gene. But then it became clear that it’s really my mother who should be tested for the gene; if she had it, then my three sisters and I definitely would also get the test. For whatever reason, we were all–minus my doctor–taken aback when my mother’s results came back positive. She has the BRCA2 gene (there is also a BRCA1 gene).
You may ask what a lot of people have asked: But what does that mean? It means that her chances of a breast cancer recurrence go up dramatically, as does her risk of developing ovarian cancer. It means that decisions need to be made about how to help prevent a diagnosis, whether through vigilant screening or surgery to remove the risky body parts. It means each of her four daughters have a 50 percent chance of also having the gene.
So we’ve all started the testing process. I don’t have the gene. Neither does my younger sister. Another sister is waiting until the fall to get tested. But my other sister just learned that she does have the gene, and even though she lives in California and we only see each other a few times each year, we happened to have been together when she got the call. I won’t get into details about what that was like, but to say it was painful is an understatement. And now my sister, who is 32 and hasn’t yet had children, is faced with all kinds of big questions about what she should do with this information.
Meanwhile, a childhood friend was diagnosed with breast cancer last month. A mother of three, she will have a double mastectomy this week–she has since learned that she, too, is a carrier of the BRCA gene–and then begin 16 weeks of chemo. And we still have the results of my third sister’s test to get through… not to mention those of my mom’s sister and brothers (yes, men need to be tested too, as their risk of both breast and prostate cancer jumps if they have the gene).
Then there’s the matter of my job. I’m a health editor for a magazine for women and we’re currently producing our October issue. In other words, there’s no shortage of breast cancer-related information swirling around. I think back to a conversation I had earlier this summer with Susan Love, M.D., the president and medical director of the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation. It was an honor to speak with her; Dr. Susan Love’s Breast Book was what everyone in my family consulted when my mom was diagnosed. Hearing her say things like, “We can be the generation that stops breast cancer” was not just inspiring–it was reassuring, coming from someone with her knowledge.
Dr. Love has a mission to discover the cause of breast cancer. And to that end, she’s joined with the Avon Foundation for Women to create an Army of Women. The goal is to recruit 1 million women–those with a connection to breast cancer and those without–who will participate in research that will eventually eradicate the disease. To join the Army, you simply provide some basic information and then wait to be contacted about studies you can participate in. When you’re contacted, you either join the study or not–your call–and you’ll hopefully tell a friend about it so that she may consider joining. I’ve joined the Army and it just feels good to know I’m doing something about this disease that seems to hang over so many of us. If you, too, feel powerless in the face of breast cancer, maybe this is the cause for you. In addition to their web site, you can find the Army of Women on Facebook.
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Army of Women, Avon Foundation for Women, BRCA gene, breast cancer, Dr. Susan Love, Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation, genetic testing | Categories:
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