I’ve been traveling and have had little time to post about—or even process—Angelina Jolie’s opinion piece, “My Medical Choice,” in the NY Times
I am not sure I have anything to add to the discussion, but I have had so many people ask me about it that I felt I should respond.  I am doing so in a highly equivocal way, as  I have mixed emotions on the piece. (The more I learn about breast cancer and its treatment, the fuzzier my opinions.  Things used to be clearer when I knew less.)
I do think Jolie does an exceptional job explaining her specific case, providing great details for those who are unsure what might be ahead of them. She certainly makes it real and true—and doesn’t glamorize it.  This is a hard decision and the treatment is hard on your body.  She makes that clear—and good for her for taking the risk of going public with a decision that some might trivialize, with insensitive and uninformed comments.
I do worry, though, about how we approach celebrity information.  Too often we want to do what they do, be who they are.  It concerns me, then, that women who do not have the risk factors Jolie faced—she had an 87 percent risk of breast cancer—might also think they need a double mastectomy.  This could be much more aggressive treatment than makes sense for them—more aggressive than might be good for them.  In fact, there has been an increase in the number of double mastectomies in recent years, sometimes in cases of DCIS.
I hope we keep the risks—of cancer as well as of the effects of it treatment— in perspective.  It is a fine line—I want us to be informed, proactive, and in control.  But I do not want us unnecessarily fearful.  I think Jolie helps us with the former but also puts us at risk of the latter.
As I said, the more I learn, the less I truly understand.

• Read more about TNBC in my book, Surviving Triple-Negative Breast Cancer.

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2 thoughts on “Does Angelina Jolie's Story Help or Hurt?

  1. Anonymous says:

    Helen Jackson asked that I post this for her: “Hi Patricia, It is a fine line and needs to be addressed with guidance from Genetic Counselors with testing which will help to be informed, proactive and in control. Along with addressing the fear of the unknown, another great resource is FORCE. Hereditary cancers are definitely different. Thanks for addressing this much misunderstood form of treatment of breast cancer where some comments on other sites have been very insensitive to our community of previvors and survivors.”

  2. Anonymous says:

    I couldn't agree more! I'm glad I'm not the only one whose opinions get “fuzzier” the more I learn. As for Ms. Jolie's decision; it was personal. However, I do wonder about continuing to promote a culture of fear (as I see it) when it comes to breast cancer. Cancer is scary enough without added pressure or fear. Thank you for your thoughts. I'm going to share this.

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