To Be or Not To Be…That is THE Question

Angelina JolieIt takes a pretty concerted effort to effectively block one’s exposure to “news” of current events around the world, so most of us have heard something this week about Angelina’s breasts. If you happen to be in the minority and don’t know what that is about, “A-List” actress and director Angelina Jolie revealed this week that she underwent a preventive double mastectomy to help prevent her chances of expressing the cancer for which she has the “faulty” BRCA1 (breast cancer type 1) gene. Angelina’s mother, who also carried the gene, died of cancer at the age of 56 after a nearly 10 year battle with cancer, and Angelina made the decision to improve her odds of avoiding that fate. Prior to the surgery, she carried an 87 percent risk of developing breast cancer, which has now dropped to below 5 percent. She is also planning to undergo an elective surgical removal of her ovaries to lower the 50 percent chance she has of developing ovarian cancer due to the same gene.

There are many different opinions about whether this was a wise or beneficial decision, and people have not held back in expressing those opinions since Angelina spoke out in a New York Times Op-Ed article this week. Fortunately most of us do not carry the high-risk BRCA1 gene that Angelina does and hopefully will never have to make such a weighty decision for ourselves about how to deal with that. Only a fraction of breast cancers actually result from an inherited gene mutation. But for those who do carry the BRCA1 defect, the medical community indicates that there is a 65 percent risk of developing breast cancer.

Had she not chosen this seemingly radical approach as an effort to extend her life, Angelina may have met with the same fate as her mother. Just knowing that we have a potential ticking time bomb inside of us in the form of a cancer gene (or any other serious health issue) can be enough to create prolonged stress in our bodies, which can itself, create or contribute to disease. So while it remains to be seen as to whether Angelina improved her chances by undergoing these extreme voluntary surgeries, just by virtue of the fact that she feels less anxiety about the issue now can play a huge part in her health and wellness.

So let’s applaud her bravery in making the decision that she did, regardless of what we think she should have done (shoulding on people is a slippery slope), and her courage in sharing this very personal decision with the world. May we never have to face such a daunting diagnosis, but if we do, may we all demonstrate as much strength and grace as Ms. Jolie!

Click here to read the Fact Sheet on BRCA1 and BRCA2 from the National Cancer Institute.

Photo credit: www.jurassicpunk.com/stars/angelinajolie/angelina_jolie_13.jpg

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