Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Thanks Angie. Now What?

Like so many people, I was surprised by the news of Angelina Jolie and her articulate and eloquent article sharing her decision to get a preventative double mastectomy and bringing light to the issue around the BRCA genetic mutation. 

I was filled with a wide range of thoughts and emotions after reading the article. Admittedly my first reaction, was that of empathy and gratitude. I felt connected with Angie (can I call her Angie)?  Then,  a slew of politically incorrect thoughts ran through my head:
  • At least I am on trend (less the preventative piece)
  • I wonder how many ccs she woke up with in her expanders? 

And then some very angry and irrational thoughts:
  • What about the MILLIONS of women who were faced with the decision to take the test already diagnosed where it wasn't necessarily a choice?
  • What about the women who don't have the gene, have breast cancer and fighting every single day without a single indication as to why this happened?
  • Really - I was just beginning to forget about all this, now it's everywhere and I feel like I'm reliving it with each new headline.
  • Re: men making ignorant comments on Facebook and other sites- Shut the F_CK up! UNFRIENDED

It is hard to describe what an incredibly difficult and personal decision to take the test is.  For me, it was after I was already diagnosed and it was less a choice and more necessary to inform the strategy for my treatment. But the emotional angst leading up to the test was perhaps the most challenging part.  

The build up alone requires you to reflect on family history and in turn those who are no longer with us which alone is heartbreaking.  Then the reality that the results impact not just you, but your entire family. If I tested positive, that would influence my sisters, cousins, and niece and their futures. It was a burden I felt too responsible to bear. I ultimately tested negative, but I know so many women who have tested positive, and as Angie describes, it is an empowered step that can inform women's future health. I also know many women who may fall within the described risk factors and have chosen not to take the test. They are living their lives being present and enjoying life. And for me, that is just as empowered and brave. 

But the most important thing to consider is NOW WHAT?  Hopefully people are getting useful information, but below are a few links that I feel provide women some very tangible steps:

1. Assess your risk - Bright Pink is a great organization that has a helpful risk assessment tool. If you don't fall within the risk factors, this particular test is not relevant to you. Regardless, speak to your doctor. 

2. Check your boobs - Hopefully this is a given, but self exams and mammograms are a must. I of course would advocate to start now - regardless of age (I am 38), particularly if any of the risk factors are relevant to you. At a minimum, it is good to get a baseline.

3. Empowering others - Supporting other women and organizations that support women's health is key. Planned Parenthood, Pink Ribbons Project, and Bright Pink are just a few organization s that help women who may not have access.  But explore in your community.

It has been an overwhelming week for me being flooded through media with this news while facing my own journey.  But I have to say, I feel such a global sense of connectedness with so many women right now - including Angie.  

Needless to say, the fact that she went public was extremely brave and brought a very articulate reality to the process and acknowledges how far medicine has come. The fact that we can wake up the next day from surgery still feeling like (or at least looking like) a woman is so important to share. She is so right on in saying what an empowered process it can be and the importance of being surrounded by love and support as key to that. 

But most importantly, she is using celebrity in a way to educate, empower and get a very important conversation going.  That alone  is to be celebrated. So from one sister to another - I am proud of you Angie.

We got this..

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