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Open Mike: Angelina and the Rest of Us

To the Editor:
I am usually not inclined to share my thoughts online, but this a topic that is close to my heart.
I am a little angered with all the news about Angelina Jolie’s intimate prophylactic mastectomy. The decision to remove both her breasts as a preventative measure against cancer is a choice she made for herself and I respect it, but how do “ordinary” women now deal with the fear and the urgency to do something that she brings?
  • Instead of focusing on her “extraordinary” courage, I wish celebrity media would urge their audience not to rush to do this procedure and help us address the issues that touch us “ordinary” women:
  • How do we go about being tested for cancer genes, when insurances and our own wallets lack the ability to fund it?
  • Are there any fee-free organizations helping women who are not as educated or affluent?
  • How about dealing with the difficulties of a comprehensive gene analysis. The results are not always black and white. What if your test reveals you only have a 5% chance of getting cancer, what is the difference with 87% when dealing with the information?

Angelina also make it seem like it is a very easy procedure, which it certainly is not. I wish they would not glamorize the surgeries but instead address the physical pain, the walking around with drain bottles sticking out of your sides for 7 days, the long wait before reconstruction. Also, the importance of the choice of surgeons: one that will make sure most breast tissue is removed (any tissue left behind, no matter how microscopically small, can still develop cancer), the other being experienced enough to make your new prosthesis even and nice to look at.
And the enormous financial costs and time demands for the removal of the breasts, weekly filling of the expanders and then actual reconstruction.
What about the long term follow ups? There are complications such as lymphedema in your arms or encapsulating or rupture of the prothesis (which have to be changed every few years anyway) and more… and mention of the other valid options, such as close surveillance of the breasts and chemo preventative therapy.
I could  also go on about all the talk of Angelina’s femininity. She is a sex symbol, married to a sex symbol. She is admired, praised, and will be deemed sexually beautiful with or without breasts. I do not think it is the same for most “ordinary” women. I should know. I am one “ordinary” woman,  a stage III breast cancer survivor after a one sided mastectomy, 13 years ago.

–Pascale Goldenstein

The writer is a former Larchmont resident and local business owner.

photo: Wikimedia Commons


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May 20, 2013 10:49 AM

I obviously respect her opinion but I am in totally different camp. It’s like celebrities can’t win. AJ made a decision based on her personal circumstances and decided to share it. She could have kept it a secret and helped no one. Instead, she has probably made many women feel better about having to go through something pretty life-altering. (She did minimize the pain/recovery aspect which is unfortunate but if that is her experience then what else could she say.) It seems that nothing is ever enough for some people. Any time someone does a good deed, people will say they need to do more. I don’t think she glamorized her circumstances in any way and I respect her for coming forward and sharing as much as she did. Also, I would be willing to bet she will begin (if she hasn’t already) to devote much of her considerable resources to BC research and to making testing and treatment available to low income women. But even if she doesn’t and chooses to give all her money to help children in third world nations, don’t you think that’s her choice?

J. Mark Lane
J. Mark Lane
May 20, 2013 11:57 AM
Reply to  anonymous

Agreed. Breast cancer (like all cancers) does not care what your economic or social circumstances are. And the fatality rates are inversely related to access to medical care (preventive care and treatment). And that access has both a geographic component and an economic component. And also an education component. None of that should be the case. But it is. Jolie is in fact brave, for bringing her experience public even though it will negatively impact her sex-goddess status, on which she relies for her profession.

There are a lot of people on this planet working to increase access to cancer treatment. My own efforts, humble though they are, have mostly been via the Komen organization (which, despite “political” problems, still gives more to BC work than any group on earth). We just have to keep plugging away at it. There’s really no choice. Everyone can contribute something. What Angelina Jolie has contributed is huge, even if she does nothing else (which I doubt). Respect, for that.

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