Why insensitive remarks after Jolie's prophylactic surgery can be a good thing


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In The New York Times today, Angelina Jolie wrote an opinion piece that outlined her decision to have BRCA testing and subsequent prophylactic mastectomy. For a person who seems to value her private life, I'm surprised she decided to make this decision, but I'm glad she did. I often have my doubts about whether celebrities can offer insight and education into a medical matter, but I'm not being cynical today. After reading the piece, "My Medical Choice," I broke my own rule of reading the online public comments. While people may make some stupid and insensitive remarks about the matter, it also opens up a great discussion on why this is a valid option for certain women. The comments addressed the ignorance about the issue in that this wasn't a ploy to receive breast implants, and this wasn't an option that can only be afforded by rich celebrities.Her reasons behind her decision mirror what I've heard from other women. "We often speak of "Mommy's mommy," and I find myself trying to explain the illness that took her away from us. They have asked if the same could happen to me. I have always told them not to worry, but the truth is I carry a "faulty" gene, BRCA1, which sharply increases my risk of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer."What's interesting in Jolie's letter is that she detailed the process, including nipple preservation, fillers, drains and reconstruction. She notes that her regimen will soon be posted on the website of the Pink Lotus Breast Center in Beverly Hills. Her decision was to help other women know about the options for genetic testing and prevention, while also making a point that she still carries a risk of breast and ovarian cancer. "I wanted to write this to tell other women that the decision to have a mastectomy was not easy. But it is one I am very happy that I made. My chances of developing breast cancer have dropped from 87 percent to under 5 percent. I can tell my children that they don't need to fear they will lose me to breast cancer."Near the end of the letter, she takes aim at the number of breast cancer deaths worldwide and the fact that the cost of BRCA testing remains an obstacle for many women. The latter may be resolved later this summer when the Supreme Court rules on the patent issue of the BRCA gene mutation ("Can a Human Gene Be Patented?"). If the company that holds the patent and markets the genetic test for the mutation comes out on the wrong end of the ruling, the cost of BRCA testing may ultimately decrease.I've been reading some great comments and blog posts in reaction to this story, so please feel free to share them.

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