I woke up Tuesday morning around 5am to a rather shocking text message from my friend Eryn, informing me that Angelina Jolie had a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction just three months ago. I jolted myself out of bed, stumbled down the hall and tuned in to the local news. After news reporters started the initial tease surrounding her story, I quickly learned that she, too, was BRCA positive.
For the first 30 minutes, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. But when the information finally started settling in, I couldn’t help but wonder why I felt so relieved. Thousands of women every year find out they’re BRCA positive. Thousands of women every year also choose to get their breasts removed and go through reconstructive surgery as a preventative measure to reduce their risk of breast cancer. So why was the buzz around Angie such a relief (for lack of a better word) to hear? After chewing on this question for the last 48 hours, I still don’t feel like I’m able to explain it as well as I’d like, but I do have some thoughts on the matter.
Whether it’s finding out that you have full-blown breast cancer or finding out that you have an 87% chance of getting it, a woman’s mind will forever be haunted by two words when learning of her newfound cancerous fate: mastectomy and death. The removal of your breasts and the thought of having to leave this world before you’re married or before you get to have kids, or for some women before you get to graduate college are very simply the first and second thing that go through so many women’s minds when the big C card decides to sneak its way in and mess up your hand.
For many people, Angelina Jolie represents so many different levels of beauty and sex appeal. She’s been hailed in Hollywood as one of the most beautiful women in the world and has a stellar track record of using her celebrity platform to raise awareness for worldwide issues that so often go unnoticed (post Billy Bob Thornton, anyway). She’s the poster above teen boys’ beds and women all over this great nation take dramatic (and sometimes painful) approaches to mimic that perfect pout. And now she’s had a mastectomy? WHAT?! Where in the hell is that supposed to fit in today’s society? Well, I’ll tell you where… right in the hearts of every woman in the world who has ever been haunted by those two little words: mastectomy and death.
Angelina Jolie sharing her decision with the public is a big deal. The awareness she’s bringing to the BRCA mutation is on a completely different level at this point. Things that wonderful organizations, such as Bright Pink and FORCE, have been doing for years are finally getting the attention they’ve been striving for. Christina Applegate played a huge part in BRCA awareness a few years ago after announcing that she was BRCA positive, but attention to the matter seemed to fade rather quickly after that story was released.
Whether it’s a necessary surgery to save your life or it’s an elective surgery to reduce your risk, the first thing a woman does when a decision has been made to have a mastectomy is scour the internet for pictures, and I’m sure Angie had her own Google Image moments. So many of us torture ourselves into the depths of the earth to find out what we’re going to look like when it’s all said and done. And what do we find? Pictures from 1979 of women who look like someone’s taken a machete to their chest. YIKES!
But listen up, people! Times, they are a changin’!
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again… It’s NOT 1979 anymore! Believe it or not, science has advanced in the last few decades! There are breast implants that are now made specifically for women with little to no breast tissue and plastic surgeons are constantly fine-tuning their craft to take the fear out of breast reconstruction. The word mastectomy should never again be associated with the machete-to-the-chest images! Ever! If you need a reminder, go check out Peep Show and stare away! Hell, I’d hang a picture of these bad boys in Times Square if it wasn’t mildly inappropriate! Well… maybe I’d start small and work my way up to splashing my boobs on the side of a 100 story building. But you get my overly dramatic point, I’m sure.
Here’s where this starts to make sense. Angelina Jolie making such a public announcement about having a preventative mastectomy, I think, is going to cause a rather dramatic curve in the way society views what used to be such a terrifying procedure. She didn’t make this public knowledge so she wouldn’t have to talk about it. She’ll be candid in interviews – the world will know the inside story, if you will, behind the procedure. She will utilize the platform she has to let people know that not only can women come out with wonderful looking breasts after a mastectomy, they sometimes will come out looking even better than they did before!
At the end of the day, I think that’s the reason I was so happy to hear her publicize her situation. As society begins to latch on to this story, I think that the masses will eventually adopt a more modern perspective on mastectomies in general. I’m so sad to learn that she, like so many other women, had to go through all of this. But if I knew then what I know now, I honestly feel like I would have been so much more accepting of my situation. My fears would have been lessened and my focus would have been far more related to the initial reasoning behind why I decided to have this procedure in the first place – to substantially drop that 87% risk down to less than 5%.
In closing – THANK YOU to my beautiful sister Heather, Angelina Jolie, Christina Applegate, Giuliana Rancic, Allyn Rose (Miss DC), Sharon Osborne, Eryn Powell, Diana Singer, Holley Hand, Kathleen “Sunshine” Obrien, Carly Surber, Laurie B., Megan S., all of the lovely ladies from Beyond the Pink Moon and Young Previvors, FORCE, Previvor Generation followers and any other woman who’s been brave enough to share their stories with me and so many others! Each and every one of you laid my cosmetic fears to rest with stories and images. As my predecessors in this crazy little journey we’ve all been through, I can only hope to be as much of an inspiration in someone else’s life as all of you have been in mine.
And as the very wise, yet very witty, Eryn Powell (Previvor) recently said: “I’ve always wanted Angelina’s boobs, and now I have them!” She has also decided to rename her boyfriend Brad.
To read the full NY Times article, written by Angie, herself, please click here:
Breast Wishes –