Angelina Jolie and her mastectomy. (It was going to come up eventually.)

In February, Angelina Jolie had a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy. This week, she wrote an op-ed about it for the New York Times. And here’s all I’m going to say about it:

1. Does it qualify as “brave” or “heroic” to get a preventive mastectomy? I don’t know. Mostly, it sounds like a medical decision made with the aid of her doctor in response to a medical threat, so I suppose that is what it is. What does qualify as brave, in my mind, is to speak about it so openly in a society where women are evaluated on the basis of their breasts, where breast-cancer fundraising comes with the admonition to “save the ta-tas,” and where even now commenters question her choice to “sacrifice” her precious breasts because of a mere 87 percent chance of getting breast cancer. Hopefully, her openness about it will make other women feel more comfortable and less stigmatized discussing their own breast health concerns.

2. Is her choice the right one for every woman? No. It appears to have been the right one for her, but every person’s situation is different. A woman in similar circumstances who chooses not to follow that path is not making an irresponsible choice or failing herself or her family.

3. Mastectomy is not “maiming” or “mutilation.” It’s the removal of body tissue for medical reasons. Her body is not now useless, ugly, or disfigured; it just has different parts than the ones that grew there originally. She is no less a person and no less a woman for having had her breasts removed.

4. That said, her feelings about her post-mastectomy body are hers to feel, just as with any other woman. Some women feel incomplete after a mastectomy, or see their missing breasts as a reminder of what they’ve been through, and choose to get a reconstruction. Some women don’t particularly care, or see their scars as a badge of honor, and choose not to reconstruct. Jolie says she’ll be getting a reconstruction, and her reasons are hers. Our job is not to question; our job is to create a world where a woman isn’t pressured to make medical choices based on society’s expectations of her body, and then leave her to make her choices in that free environment.

5. In her letter, Jolie acknowledges her privilege in having access to exceptional medical care for genetic testing, prophylactic surgery (mastectomy and the oophorectomy she’ll be having in the near future), and breast reconstruction. Some health insurance companies will pay for preventive surgery and reconstruction; others won’t; and many women don’t have health insurance at all. It’s a thing that needs to be fixed. Jolie says, “It has got to be a priority to ensure that more women can access gene testing and lifesaving preventive treatment, whatever their means and background, wherever they live.” That’s hard to argue with.

6. Every day, women go through what Jolie has gone through and don’t get New York Times op-eds about it. They are no more or less brave, nor more or less important, than she is. But almost all of them are less famous, and that’s what enabled Jolie to do what she’s done: Use her sounding board to demystify a scary medical procedure, shed light on an aspect of breast cancer that often gets hidden amid the pinkification, draw attention to a serious gap in women’s access to health care, and maybe make other women feel less alone as they deal with their own circumstances. And that’s hard to argue with, too.

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118 Responses

  1. Emma
    Emma May 15, 2013 at 1:29 pm |

    Good for Angelina Jolie. Yeah she talked about how the choice for her wasn’t easy, but she made the decision while thinking about her children and realizing that if she developed breast cancer (87% chance for her) it would be too hard for her knowing that she couldn’t leave her kids behind. I also think it’s fantastic that she decided to speak out to let women know that we have options, and to not be afraid to do something that will benefit one’s health.

    It’s just sad that people are making jokes about it, and some of her so-called “fans” are upset that she lost her precious breasts even though she just saved her own life. They are just upset because their “fantasies” are apparently “gone”. Ridiculous.

    1. Destiny
      Destiny May 17, 2013 at 2:45 pm |

      She did NOT just save her own life. She is still going to die, and just like the rest of us, she has no idea when that might be or what age or shape her kids will be in when she does.

      She decreased the chance that she will develop breast cancer, that’s it.

      And because of her overabundance of money she will come out on the other side of this whole procedure with reconstructive surgery actual cancer patients could only dream about.

      How is THAT heroic?

      Heroines are the women who found themselves deep in the throws of a cancer/disease disability they didn’t know they had and fought without international support and endless money to live every day to the fullest and to find any and every way to carry on and be there for their families.

      Some see it through, some don’t but, those women are heros.

      1. Hrovitnir
        Hrovitnir May 19, 2013 at 9:34 pm |

        So we admire women coping through no choice of their own with an incredibly shit situation, but I suppose if they somehow get access to life-saving procedures they no longer deserve our support? How lovely.

        No one’s making you call her “heroic”, but running her down for being able to afford decent health care is fucking ridiculous.

        It’s the fact she’s talking about it, and actually saying that it’s wrong that you need to be rich to get this care that makes her awesome IMO but hey, whatever helps you get your hate on I guess? -_-

        1. macavitykitsune
          macavitykitsune May 19, 2013 at 10:42 pm |

          How dare she, with her wanting to live and being able to afford health care! Clearly she’s just a rich bitch.

  2. Barnacle Strumpet
    Barnacle Strumpet May 15, 2013 at 1:31 pm |

    It’s apparently made Myriad’s (the company that patented testing BRAC1) stock go up. They’re the reason the testing is so expensive in the first place–it’s ridiculous that they get to profit off of one woman trying to be open about her medical procedure to help other people.

    On the other hand, it’s brought their crappiness to light again, so…

    1. Barnacle Strumpet
      Barnacle Strumpet May 15, 2013 at 1:31 pm |

      *BRCA1

    2. Anon21
      Anon21 May 15, 2013 at 1:37 pm |

      There’s some possibility that the Supreme Court will strike down Myriad’s patent on the isolated form of BRCA1; the ACLU has a case currently pending before the Court about whether a patent on a human gene is permissible. Even if the Supreme Court doesn’t act, I believe the patent expires within the next few years. But of course, many gene patents remain, driving up the costs of diagnostic tests for all sorts of diseases.

  3. JBL55
    JBL55 May 15, 2013 at 1:52 pm |

    I ‘ve had two mastectomies, the first due to breast cancer and the second a few months later as a preventive measure.

    By “preventive” I mean that a cyst was detected in the remaining breast when I was seeing the oncologist for a follow-up, and after jumping through all kinds of diagnostic hoops, I decided I didn’t have time to deal with every false alarm that might be in my future, so off it came. If I had it to do all over again, I would’ve had them both off at the same time as reconstruction would have been much simpler.

    Anyway, here are my responses to your 1-6:

    1. “[…] the admonition to “save the ta-tas,” […]”

    The first time I saw that bumper sticker I was in the middle of chemotherapy and I laughed my ass off. I still think it’s funny.

    “[… ] commenters question her choice to “sacrifice” her precious breasts because of a mere 87 percent chance of getting breast cancer […]”

    Fuck them.

    “[…] Hopefully, her openness about it will make other women feel more comfortable and less stigmatized discussing their own breast health concerns.”

    Me, too.

    2. “[…] A woman in similar circumstances who chooses not to follow that path is not making an irresponsible choice or failing herself or her family.”

    As long as she’s working with the fullest set of data she can, she will be fully informed, and that’s all we can ask for.

    3. “Mastectomy is not “maiming” or “mutilation.” […]

    My daughter-in-law gasped when I told her I saw it as superficial, so I explained it was superficial relative to the much more invasive surgery I’d had in ’90 to remove a grapefruit-sized tumor and a few feet of intestine. My feeling is: if my muscles aren’t being cut, it’s no biggie.

    4. “[…] our job is to create a world where a woman isn’t pressured to make medical choices based on society’s expectations of her body […]”

    Very true. I used to have an impressive rack, and while I was delighted to be able to run for the first time since I was fifteen without hanging onto both of them for dear life, I still wanted a little something up top. But the site is numb because of all the nerve endings that were cut. I have no feeling there. Reconstruction will not restore that.

    5. “[…] Jolie says, “It has got to be a priority to ensure that more women can access gene testing and lifesaving preventive treatment, whatever their means and background, wherever they live.” That’s hard to argue with.”

    Amen. I first heard this story on the BBC and the woman they interviewed spoke of it costing her no money at all for testing and treatment. Nothing. Zero. Zip. Nada. The null set.

    6. “[…] that’s what enabled Jolie to do what she’s done: Use her sounding board to demystify a scary medical procedure, shed light on an aspect of breast cancer that often gets hidden amid the pinkification, draw attention to a serious gap in women’s access to health care, and maybe make other women feel less alone as they deal with their own circumstances. And that’s hard to argue with, too.”

    Amen. Thank you, Angelina.

    1. (BFing)Sarah
      (BFing)Sarah May 15, 2013 at 8:23 pm |

      Yes, exactly what you said.

      My MIL was just diagnosed with BC (stage 4) and she has two sisters that died of BC in the last decade. We just found out that her niece (daughter of one of the sisters) got a preventative mastectomy b/c she was tested and found to have BRAC1. We don’t know whether my MIL has BRAC1, but if she does apparently my husband has the roughly the same potential to get BC as a woman without a genetic history and I guess my daughter should also get tested just to be fully informed. I know my MIL never wanted to go the PM route, but with what she is going through now…I think her daughter feels differently. I’m glad Angelina Jolie is talking about it. Good for her.

  4. FashionablyEvil
    FashionablyEvil May 15, 2013 at 2:26 pm |

    Hopefully, her openness about it will make other women feel more comfortable and less stigmatized discussing their own breast health concerns.

    Really? After all those years of pink washing you don’t think this has already happened? I am sick of consciousness raising that only instills fear and fund raising that does so little to actually determine the causes of breast cancer.

    Do I think she made the right decision for her? Sure. Do I think she should have written (and the NYT have published) an op-ed about it? Absolutely not.

    The degree to which other people consider Angelina Jolie’s breasts their business is seriously messed up.

    1. elena
      elena May 15, 2013 at 3:00 pm |

      Look, fear and fundraising may be caused by this. But this one comment alone makes it ok:

      “As I am nearing 40 with the BRCA gene, I have been trying to decide when not if. I have not had the courage to face the mastectomy concept, I am just trying to decide on the hysterectomy. Thank you so much for the article. Angelina Jolie is the world’s icon of a beautiful woman, so when she has the courage to do something like that and share it with the world, then, the simple press and exposure helps the rest of the BRCA carriers to be viewed as less “extreme” when we do face the decision to do life altering and possibly life changing surgeries.
      When people hear about me doing something, they may be more like, “Oh yeah, I have heard about people doing that before” as opposed to, “That’s crazy talk.” I can’t say thank you enough.”

      That’s what the article was meant to do, she didn’t ask for money.

    2. Drahill
      Drahill May 15, 2013 at 3:06 pm |

      I think you’re not making a distinction between talking about breast cancer in general and discussing the attendant issues that surround treatment. Even though masectomy might be a viable option for a lot of women (for a variety of reasons for those with cancer already and those at risk), it is a tough subject. Society has invested so much in teaching women that their bodies (and their distinct female bodies) are the seat of their worth, their value and their power. I had a colleague who refused to even discuss the possibility of a masectomy with her doctor because she believed that if she lost her breasts, she “wouldn’t be a real woman anymore.” Now, this is not about whether the masectomy was right for her (she would up being okay), but the message she was receiving. This is a woman who completely precluded even hearing about a potential treatment option because society spoon-fed her the motion that without her breasts, she was nothing. And this was a very well educated, accomplished attorney.

      I don’t get your point about pink-washing and how so little goes to finding a cure for breast cancer. Even if this is true (and I do believe it is), how does this negate the fact that, today (and likely for a while), women are getting diagnosed with breast cancer or finding out they are high risk. They need treatment and preventive care. They need to be able to discuss and consider ALL options with their doctors and be able to do so without worrying about BS cultural and societal baggage that would push them in any particular direction. And yes, the more women who are willing to discuss the entire gamut of options, the more we can get towards letting women decide for themselves. To that end, I see no issue with the op-ed.

      1. tigtog
        tigtog May 15, 2013 at 5:26 pm | *

        Now, this is not about whether the masectomy was right for her (she would up being okay), but the message she was receiving. This is a woman who completely precluded even hearing about a potential treatment option because society spoon-fed her the motion that without her breasts, she was nothing.

        THIS. My mother died last month following the spread of secondaries from her primary breast cancer. She had a lumpectomy as her original surgical treatment, and wouldn’t consider a mastectomy for exactly the same reason as Drahill’s colleague. Maybe a mastectomy still wouldn’t have saved her life, but maybe a mastectomy would have meant that I still had my mum.

        So thank you , Angelina Jolie, for making this option seem more mainstream so that women like my mother might at least consider it instead of rejecting it out of hand. I hope it helps save many other mothers for whom this truly would be the best surgical option.

        By the way, I had already visited my own family doctor for a referral for genetic testing a few days before the Jolie op-ed was published, and I already had every intention of having a double mastectomy if my genes show the mutation. I’m sure that genetic counselling would have meant that I was informed about the associated benefits of prophylactic oophorectomy for those with a mutant BRCA1 gene as well, but because of this international conversation sparked by the op-ed that’s now not going to come as a nasty surprise.

        1. (BFing)Sarah
          (BFing)Sarah May 15, 2013 at 8:27 pm |

          I feel like I read about your loss elsewhere on this site, Tigtog, and I’m not sure if I gave proper condolences. I’m so sorry for your loss.

        2. tigtog
          tigtog May 15, 2013 at 10:21 pm | *

          Thanks for that, Sarah. I haven’t written much about it. It’s very raw and very painful to write too much about it. But that’s exactly why op-eds like Jolie’s are so important compared to the generic feel-good pinkwash about breast cancer – it opens out the conversation.

        3. IrishUp
          IrishUp May 15, 2013 at 11:11 pm |

          I am so sorry to hear of your loss, tigtog. I wish you every possible comfort.

        4. tigtog
          tigtog May 16, 2013 at 9:15 am | *

          Thank you for your kind thoughts, IrishUp.

    3. Lolagirl
      Lolagirl May 15, 2013 at 6:34 pm |

      Do I think she made the right decision for her? Sure. Do I think she should have written (and the NYT have published) an op-ed about it? Absolutely not.

      I strenuously disagree that she should not have written her op-ed or that it should not have been published.

      Like it or not, the likes of Angelina Jolie carries a great deal of influence when it comes to matters of both popular culture and public opinion here in the U.S. She has also written several op-eds about various political and social crises in places like Africa and Asia, and hey, lookie there, after reading them it’s becomes quite clear that Ms. Jolie is a whole lot more than just a pretty face and a celebrity.

      The bottom line is that Ms. Jolie has the social clout to demestify and remove stigma from issues like this. If she can make it more socially acceptable for women to make the choice to address medical issues like breast cancer aggressively and without fear of losing their femininity and much of their social currency in the process, what in the world is their to object? And if she can pave the way for all women to have expanded access to diagnosis and even the most aggressive forms of treatment for breast cancer, that’s a win in my book as well.

      1. FashionablyEvil
        FashionablyEvil May 15, 2013 at 10:20 pm |

        Yes, and with that platform her comments may drive more women to have prophylactic mastectomies:

        …thousands of women now consider double mastectomies after low-grade cancer diagnoses. According to Todd Tuttle, chief of the division of surgical oncology at the University of Minnesota and lead author of a study on prophylactic mastectomy published in The Journal of Clinical Oncology, there was a 188 percent jump between 1998 and 2005 among women given new diagnoses of D.C.I.S. in one breast — a risk factor for cancer — who opted to have both breasts removed just in case. Among women with early-stage invasive disease (like mine), the rates rose about 150 percent. Most of those women did not have a genetic predisposition to cancer.

        I am not saying that fears of cancer aren’t real, but the BRCA genes are relatively uncommon and don’t account for a large percentage of cases of breast cancer.

        1. Drahill
          Drahill May 15, 2013 at 10:30 pm |

          I’m still not seeing your argument. You are trying to argue that Jolie’s op-ed with increase the number of women who will get mastectomies without really needing them. However, there’s no actual evidence this is the case. It’s pretty clear from her op-ed that Jolie made the decision based upon her VERY high risk for breast cancer (87%). Neither you or I, nor anybody else, is in a position to speculate as to whether Jolie made the “right” choice. If she is fine with it, the world should be fine with it.

          I’m also not sure what your argument actually is here. That some women might have mastectomies when their risk isn’t what the think it is? I’m sure some do. But that isn’t the problem of Jolie’s op-ed. It’s the problem of doctors and care providers who don’t give women all the info they need to make an informed decision. And women should, of course, feel free to do their own research and get multiple opinions. If you are trying to argue that merely reading an op-ed in the NYT will spur women to go and have their breasts removed on a whim, that is a logical fallacy. Jolie isn’t writing a piece advocating for mastectomies as front-line care. She’s advocating expanded BRCA testing (because even if it’s only 1% of women, that’s still a really big number) and a woman’s right to consider all her options. And that includes mastectomy, if the woman wants it (for some, even low-risk might be too high risk for her).

        2. tigtog
          tigtog May 15, 2013 at 10:31 pm | *

          Your quoted paragraph is about therapeutic mastectomies, not propylactic mastectomies.

        3. macavitykitsune
          macavitykitsune May 15, 2013 at 10:36 pm |

          And if women do have elective mastectomies that they may not 100% need, this is wrong and bad and horrible because…? Breasts aren’t essential in the grand scheme of things; it’s not like having an elective surgery to remove a lung or an intestine.

        4. JBL55
          JBL55 May 16, 2013 at 12:42 pm |

          So what?

        5. Jenna
          Jenna May 16, 2013 at 12:44 pm |

          I can’t really bring myself to care if more women choose to have mastectomies “just in case.” It isn’t my body, and it isn’t my business. If it gives them peace of mind, that’s fine with me.

          I’m undergoing treatment for breast cancer, and this may be affecting my attitude just a bit.

          The OTHER thing that affects my attitude on this is the pushback I got from a male friend when I got my hysterectomy for treatment of fibroids a year ago. He insisted that it was over prescribed and that I should get another medical opinion, when the reality was that I had been asking for it for two years, and only managed to get the surgery scheduled when I changed doctors. By the way, the hysterectomy is probably the best present that I ever gave myself, ever.

          So. I don’t like people second guessing my medical decisions, and I will stand up for the right of any woman to do whatever she wants with her own body. If a mastectomy is what she wants, that’s fine with me. I don’t care why.

        6. sb
          sb May 16, 2013 at 1:09 pm |

          Yes, and with that platform her comments may drive more women to have prophylactic mastectomies:

          I think it will let more women feel comfortable and less isolated in their decision to choose prophylactic mastectomies (or theraputic ones where a lumpectomy is also an option). Also, in choosing reconstructive surgery if they want it and in feeling good about the way their body looks afterwards, in our current societal framework.

        7. EG
          EG May 16, 2013 at 2:02 pm |

          And if women do have elective mastectomies that they may not 100% need, this is wrong and bad and horrible because…? Breasts aren’t essential in the grand scheme of things; it’s not like having an elective surgery to remove a lung or an intestine.

          I think that my concern is that it is uncomfortably reminiscent to me of other ways that medicine has deemed women’s bodies expendable, like reports of perfectly healthy women being told in the 1950s and 1960s, why not have your uterus out, after all, you’re done using it? It does ping my radar that we don’t hear of men having prophylactic amputations nearly as often.

          That said…I haven’t done in-depth reading on the state of breast cancer treatments or risks and I have no personal experience with the concerns women facing the diagnosis must weigh, so my personal discomfort is my personal discomfort and nothing more, certainly nothing to base policy or to judge anybody’s decisions on.

          I deeply admire Jolie for her management of the situation and for her bravery in prioritizing her health and life above what our culture works overtime to tell her is her most important asset (her “sexiness”).

        8. Drahill
          Drahill May 16, 2013 at 2:16 pm |

          EG, I suspect men’s lower rates might be due to the fact that men do not have anywhere near as much breast tissue. Thus, even among men who develop breast cancer (or who are at risk for it), a preemptive masectomy would result in far, far less tissue lost and would not require any reconstruction, since the tissue loss would probably be negligble. There is also the issue that it is an issue that far more impacts women, given that in any given year, I believe 40,000 women are diagnosed, but only around 400 men.

        9. EG
          EG May 16, 2013 at 2:23 pm |

          I didn’t mean just for breast cancer. I mean for anything.

        10. Drahill
          Drahill May 16, 2013 at 2:36 pm |

          Well then, I would probably attribute it to the fact that, for starters, a preemptive removal of tissue would probably only be approved if the benefits outweighed any potential risks. In the case of breasts, that’s fairly easy. A woman will not suffer severe health effects from the loss of breast tissue. Your breasts do not serve a particularly major health function for you personally. Their removal will not majorly impair any of your bodily functioning. For a very large number of cancers, removal simply is not possible without massive health impacts (you can’t preemptively remove the bladder, pancreas or other organs without incurring some major health setbacks, and vital organs are not removable at all). The only cancer that afflicts men that often results in removal that springs to my mind is testicular cancer. As to why we seem to hear about testicle removal so less often, I’d venture one of the following:

          1.) I do not believe that a genetic test exists right now that can predict testicular cancer with the kind of accuracy the BRCA test does.

          2.) Testicular cancer comprises less than 1% of all cancers in men. Thus, even if men are removing their testicles, their numbers would not be anywhere close to women with breast cancer.

          Personally, I don’t think the comparison is valid by a long shot. I think the answer to your question is probably “male cancers are not so easily detecible and most cancers that men get do not lend themselves to easy or advisable tissue removal.”

        11. EG
          EG May 16, 2013 at 2:42 pm |

          Maybe, maybe not. Prostate cancer? It’s the most common cancer among men, and the second greatest cause of cancer death.

          Testicles are pretty easy to get at–why hasn’t there been research into the genetic factors of testicular cancer? Probably because women have brought great publicity to breast cancer, as compared to how it was 40 years ago. And that’s politically laden as well. I really don’t think it’s all as simply anatomically cut and dried as you’re making it out to be.

        12. Drahill
          Drahill May 16, 2013 at 3:16 pm |

          But EG, it really can be that simple, if it actually is. If you do a cursory search, you’ll find that although there is a heightened risk of testicular cancer among family members where one relative already has it, there has so far been very little in the way of indentifying a genetic marker for it (and if you looked, you’d see that the human genome project actually worked on this and failed to identify a marker). There’s some evidence that suggests that testiclar cancer might actually be linked to abnormal development that occurs in utero, among some other interesting stuff.

          Also, in the case of prostate cancer, it’s not analagous to removing the breasts, medically. Removing the male prostate can result in both impotence and incontinence for a lot of men (so, it has a lot more side effects than breast removal). The side effects can require long-term medications to control and counter, which create effects of their own. You are trying to, medically, compare two procedures that are, in reality, radically different without actually examining them. Might I suggest doing a bit of research first? Removal of the breasts is not medically analagous to testicle or prostate removal, so I think you started off by asking the completely wrong question.

        13. macavitykitsune
          macavitykitsune May 16, 2013 at 4:56 pm |

          I think that my concern is that it is uncomfortably reminiscent to me of other ways that medicine has deemed women’s bodies expendable, like reports of perfectly healthy women being told in the 1950s and 1960s, why not have your uterus out, after all, you’re done using it?

          EG, I think there’s a world of difference between deeming an inert, harmless organ expendable (even if it’s at the end of its useful life), and deeming a potentially life-threatening and non-essential organ expendable. Nor is there anything wrong with freely choosing removing an organ you’re done using. Or even one you’re not done using, but that’s causing you worries because one day it might kill you. If I had a spouse I felt was 30% likely to kill me, or a car 30% likely to spontaneously explode on starting, would anyone judge my getting rid of them? How about 25%? 20%? What is the minimum acceptable risk margin for a car or a spouse?

          Maybe I’m really sensitive here, because I have family who put off getting a hysterectomy (medically strongly urged for menopausal complications) until the operation became so dangerous she flatlined on the table. If it hadn’t been for the fact that they were half expecting that, I’d have lost my aunt today. And for what? What was worth leaving my cousin potentially orphaned, my uncle potentially a widower? This bullshit equation of female body parts to female identity, to the extent that women are literally willing to die to retain an organ, is frankly more discomfiting to me, and a far more serious issue imo. (Not to mention the inherent transphobia that drives a lot of the fear of getting mastectomies or hysterectomies, from both women and men.)

          Also, I would like to add my support to what Drahill said re: men getting prophylactic amputations.

        14. EG
          EG May 16, 2013 at 5:33 pm |

          Thanks for the suggestion, Drahill–I never thought of research! Indeed, that’s why I said that my concerns should be the standard by which we judge all women’s actions.

          Oh, wait. That’s actually the opposite of what I said.

          There’s a history of medical science presenting women’s bodies as inert and disposable–indeed, much of the justification for removing uteruses was that they could cause trouble. That doesn’t mean that nobody should have preventative mastectomies. It doesn’t mean that Jolie shouldn’t have had one or that she shouldn’t go on to have her ovaries out, either. Confronted with her odds, I probably would. Or not. I’d have to talk to my doctors about risks and benefits and side effects and suchlike.

          But why is it so bad to note that I’m uncomfortable with how these things are framed given the very recent history of medicine with respect to women’s bodies? That seems really, really weird to me. The history of medicine with respect to how women’s bodies work, what’s needful and what isn’t, isn’t that great. I don’t see that anybody or anything is being harmed by my suspicion or discomfort. It’s not a question of what percentage of risk is acceptable or unacceptable, mac, because I’m not telling you or anybody else what to do. And I don’t think that my discomfort is somehow of equal weight with genetic risks as the best medical knowledge now understands them.

          But does that mean that I should dismiss the fact that there is something consistent in how women’s bodies are being framed by medical discourse and that I find that framing disturbing? We see breasts as inert and not needful. We don’t see parts of men’s bodies as inert and not needful. Why is that? Is it only about discourse accurately representing reality, or is there also a way in which discourse is constructing and coloring that perception and reality?

        15. macavitykitsune
          macavitykitsune May 16, 2013 at 5:49 pm |

          We see breasts as inert and not needful.

          EG, I think that’s the fundamental disconnect between you and I. Everything I see says that breasts are more valuable that women’s lives (the same as uteri and their contents are more valuable than women’s lives). When I think back on the “save the tatas” campaign, etc, I don’t see people campaigning to save women; I see people campaigning to save breasts because breasts are useful to the patriarchy. Compulsory sexuality, etc. Mastectomies are a hell of a lot more subversive than retaining breasts, because breasts=womanhood in much of society, thus logically women are more encouraged to retain breasts than get rid of them. They’re really fundamentally differently regarded than uteri.

          I also would like to note, as someone who has no interest in procreating and would dearly love to have her tubes tied (or even a hysterectomy) to cure her pregnancy-phobia, that doctors are really quite a lot more reluctant to remove parts of women’s bodies than you think. I have no chance in hell of getting a tubal ligation before I reach an age where I wouldn’t need one anyway.

        16. EG
          EG May 16, 2013 at 6:13 pm |

          I think that’s a fair point; I would limit my statement to medical discourse in particular, certainly not popular discourse. Historically, and even today, I’ve read a lot about doctors and surgeons treating women’s bodies–particularly the body parts coded as female–quite cavalierly (when a doctor I once knew was in med school some years ago, and they were dissecting cadavers in an anatomy class, students with female cadavers were told to just cut off the breasts and throw them away, so they could get to the important stuff).

          Radical mastectomy was the norm for quite some time, and it turned out that it didn’t have any benefits above lumpectomies. Contralateral mastectomies (a double mastectomy performed when cancer has occurred in only one breast) do not confer any medical benefits on women who do not have genetic predisposition toward breast cancer (about half of women who develop breast cancer, if I’m remembering correctly), but is still performed. And maybe that’s worth it to the women who choose it for the peace of mind, except it’s false peace of mind because it doesn’t actually have an effect on recurrence rates. And hysterectomies are still very, very common, even though as late as the 1990s doctors were still discovering new things they didn’t know about the function of the uterus. Things like this make me very skeptical of doctors’ assurance that they know all the relevant info, that they understand and respect women’s bodies.

          We work with the information we have. But twenty years ago, doctors were all raving about HRT, and then they had to stop the major study in the middle because it turned out to be so dangerous. That doesn’t mean that HRT is never called for–I know women who have needed it for truly extreme menopause symptoms that just shredded their quality of life, just as Jolie carried genetic markers that completely change the odds for her. I suspect that if I were told I had an 87% chance of developing breast cancer and had lost my mother to it, I’d do the same as she did. But your question was what’s wrong if women do that when they don’t need to, and aside from the risks surgery carries, I think that what would be wrong is that it plays into a narrative of women’s bodies as disposable.

          I don’t think that Jolie is advocating that–I really admire what she did, how she did it, and her public discussion of it.

        17. macavitykitsune
          macavitykitsune May 16, 2013 at 7:03 pm |

          EG,

          All fair points. I should have noted in my original question that when I said “not 100% necessary”, I was referring to still-significant risk levels (say, like Jolie’s ovarian cancer risk), not to zero-risk situations like the ones you’re referring.

        18. Drahill
          Drahill May 16, 2013 at 8:19 pm |

          EG, I never said you needed to do research re: mastectomies. I was responding to your statement that if elective tissue removal was so good, then why are men not doing it at the same rate? If you knew about the medical research, you would know that comparing removing the breast tissue (of either sex) is not analogous in any way to the removal of the testes or prostate. Thus, the question in itself is medically incorrect and useless. And while we could discuss history until we’re blue in the face, I don’t believe that history should serve as a barrier to discussing mastectomy today as a viable option for many women. Frankly, if we allow the history to hold us back, it’s going to create fatalities. Frankly, if there is a time for working past discomfort, this is probably the time. The idea of having a mastectomy makes me very uncomfortable as well, but that’s because surgery in general freaks me out. But your point about comparisons between sexes was moot from the beginning – that is why I was suggesting some research.

        19. EG
          EG May 16, 2013 at 8:42 pm |

          I don’t believe that history should serve as a barrier to discussing mastectomy today as a viable option for many women.

          It’s not. But that history–which is not so long in the past–is part of the discussion, and writing it off as irrelevant is shutting down part of a conversation rather than opening one up.

        20. Drahill
          Drahill May 16, 2013 at 9:09 pm |

          EG, I’m still struggling to see how bringing up your personal feelings is really germane to the conversation. Masectomy will make a great many women uncomfortable. Not because of any history, but because the idea of having large amounts of tissue removed from your body is a frightening prospect for any person, of any sex or gender. Honestly, when I see people say “remember the history” it comes across as finger-waving and saying “you need to be wary of this!” Which frankly, to me, has always come across as patronizing. You have cause to be wary of any medical procedure. That is why the op-ed, and everybody else, is advocating for it to be offered alongside all the other options. I get that the history makes you uncomfortable. But your discomfort – nor mine – isn’t particularly relevant to the post. So I’m not totally sure what your initial comment was even meant to say, at first. In reality, any medicine can be taken as an attempt to control the body, on some level. And to be honest, your breasts are one of the most “inert” body parts you have. They don’t do you much benefit – they’re more beneficial to others (and of course, I mean babies). So on some level, breasts are among the most “disposable” body parts you have (from a medical perspective, of course. I’m not accounting for emotional or mental value). So your initial point about their treatment as disposable was correct, but not in the context you suggested.

        21. BoyOrHedgehog
          BoyOrHedgehog May 17, 2013 at 3:15 am |

          EG and macavitykitsune:

          I’m going to be a bit of a Polyanna here, because it seems to me that you actually completely agree with each other in terms of the discursive construction of women’s breasts as needed/not needed. I feel like both are true, and are opposite sides of the same shit-sandwich.
          One of the things that I don’t feel like I hear talked about a lot is the fact that the hypersexualisation of women’s bodies is inextricably tied up with the suppression of other forms of existence of women’s bodies: as sites of physical wellness/illness; as sites of physical striving/playing; as sites of sexual enyoyment; as sites of self-expression; etc etc etc. And this is what I think is happening with the breasts argument here.
          Breasts are: a) SUPER!OMG!IMPORTANT! insofar as they relate to the consumable sexual attractiveness of a woman’s body. They are, on the other hand, b) routinely overlooked as part of a living physical system which keeps a woman alive and allows her to physically experience and enjoy her environment. And I think that a) and b) mutually reinforce one another. This is exactly why we have to have these depressing and fail-full “save the ta-tas” campaigns, because in an attempt to focus some attention on the *physical* importance of a woman’s body campaigners can think of nothing else to fall back on than hypersexualisation – we simply do not have an alternative way of focussing on women’s bodies.

        22. JBL55
          JBL55 May 17, 2013 at 8:23 am |

          At the risk of veering off-topic, this is for macavitykitsune:

          You wrote, “I also would like to note, as someone who has no interest in procreating and would dearly love to have her tubes tied (or even a hysterectomy) to cure her pregnancy-phobia, that doctors are really quite a lot more reluctant to remove parts of women’s bodies than you think. I have no chance in hell of getting a tubal ligation before I reach an age where I wouldn’t need one anyway.”

          I hope you can find another doctor. A dear friend who felt the same way had her tubes tied when she was 22, which would have been 1973. She has never regretted her decision.

        23. macavitykitsune
          macavitykitsune May 17, 2013 at 10:08 am |

          BoyOrHedgehog,

          You’re absolutely right. I’ve been chewing over thiks for a while, trying to figure out where the meeting point of EG’s argument and mine is, and you made that connection so clear!

          JBL,

          Thanks for the good wishes. I admit I haven’t tried very hard, simply because it’s an invasive procedure and I’m still youngish. ^__^ Maybe if I just ask around more…

        24. EG
          EG May 17, 2013 at 11:45 am |

          BoyOrHedghog–yes, I agree completely. Women’s bodies, breasts in particular, are constructed as consumable commodities, valuable only for their sexiness to straight men, which means that as you say, breasts get fetishized–save the ta-tas! they are what give you value as a Sexy Woman–or dismissed as unimportant, which leaves no room for valuing them as parts of a woman’s body and/or self (by which I don’t mean her womanhood, but her…being, I guess, and as an atheist, I experience my body as my entire being).

          Drahill–I can’t help it if you read finger-wagging into my comments, as I really don’t think it’s there, as I went out of my way multiple times to note the fact that these are my personal reactions and feelings and not necessarily useful or applicable to anybody else. Quite frankly, it reads to me as though the mere expression of personal mistrust of the medical establishment’s track record regarding the female body upsets you so much that you can’t bear any mention of it. Well, that’s a shame, but that doesn’t mean that mistrust doesn’t exist or that it doesn’t have good reason to exist. That mistrust can indeed lead to bad things as well as good things, and that’s very sad, but the blame lies with medicine’s abuse of women, not with the mistrust it generates.

          As for the relevance to the conversation, I brought them up in the context of mac’s question about the harm of unnecessary medical procedures, which was a misunderstanding–I thought she was referring to a significantly different situation than she was. If this conversation is only about the fact that Jolie in her particular situation had a preventative double mastectomy, it may be tangential–but if it’s only about one woman’s personal decision with no resonance with larger issues, then what’s the point of discussing it at all? But if it is also about medical treatment of body parts coded as female in general and responses to and discourses about them, as point 1 seems to suggest, then I really don’t see how it’s irrelevant to point out that medical wisdom has not always covered itself in glory with respect to how it has handled such treatment, and that the resulting suspicion is part of what can color responses to current treatment.

        25. EG
          EG May 17, 2013 at 11:59 am |

          In other, more concrete words, Drahill, it is relevant because I am a woman with breast cancer in my family, who had a mild scare a few years ago, and it is part of my reaction to contemplating the idea of mastectomy. If we care about my health decisions, and I do, then doesn’t it make more sense to acknowledge that history and its potential impact and then to say but it really seems like in these cases of genetically-identified high risk, the situation is different and not about treating your body/well-being as disposable, then it does for you to wag your finger at me for having the temerity to even voice such concerns? Or is it only OK for Jolie’s decision and article to spark discussion among women for whom it might be relevant when those women hew to boundaries that you find acceptable in what influences their decisions and feelings?

        26. A4
          A4 May 17, 2013 at 1:27 pm |

          I think it’s pretty fucking valid to see doctors treating illness by cutting off breasts and being like “hey isn’t that a worst case scenario thing?” and feeling negative about an answer that’s basically “It’s not that big of a deal. It’s just inert tissue. You don’t need them.”

          What the fuck? It’s my body! it’s like, the primary thing that I need. It’s not inert. It’s me! It’s my nerves and my blood and there is a limited supply, so please lets refrain by classifying parts of our bodies as “inert” because they are not deemed required to fulfill one’s role in a patriarchal capitalist society to the satisfaction of the mythical Rational Actor.

        27. macavitykitsune
          macavitykitsune May 17, 2013 at 1:43 pm |

          It’s not inert. It’s me! It’s my nerves and my blood and there is a limited supply, so please lets refrain by classifying parts of our bodies as “inert” because they are not deemed required

          A4, if you’re referring to my comment classifying a healthy post-menopausal uterus as “inert”, I meant it in the sense that it isn’t currently performing a major function (gestating a baby), but neither is it causing any harm (by being cancerous or potentially cancerous). That’s not a value judgment, it’s more like “is it currently doing anything on its task list? No? Is it trying to passively kill you? No? Then it’s inert.”

        28. EG
          EG May 17, 2013 at 2:04 pm |

          Just as an fyi tangent, my understanding is that a non-gestating uterus is actually doing a bunch of stuff, some of which we’ve only recently found out about, so that hysterectomies unaccompanied by oophorectomies are still associated with significantly higher rates of cardiovascular disease, double the risk of urinary incontinence and vaginal prolapse; it creates, I have read, prostaglandin, beta-endorphins, dinorphins and anandamide.

          And I think that’s part of my feeling–we get so used to thinking of reproductive organs as only reproductive organs. But they do other things as well. A non-gestating uterus is still a working uterus.

        29. macavitykitsune
          macavitykitsune May 17, 2013 at 2:21 pm |

          EG, I’m aware of that, which is why I’m categorising gestating a fetus as “a major function”, not “its function”. Gestation is the only thing that can absolutely not take place without a uterus (successfully, anyway, I”m not talking about ectopic pregnancies), which makes it a major function of the uterus. Whereas I’m sure there are people without uteri who are not suffering from those diseases and problems, statistically.

        30. A4
          A4 May 17, 2013 at 2:36 pm |

          Gestation is the only thing that can absolutely not take place without a uterus

          That’s quite a large claim, and also one for which you have little evidence. My point is that we need to chill a bit on giving each of our body parts a “task list” because right now society’s task priorities are pretty fucked up. They are especially fucked up when it comes to women’s bodies, so I agree with EG and I am super mistrustful of the medical establishment’s idea of what parts of a woman’s body she really “needs”.

          I’d rather start from the point of view of “The body is a living thing that is self aware and has thoughts. Its opinion of what parts of itself are important is to be given primary consideration by others because that is one of the great perks of sentience”, rather than what we currently have which seems to be “A person needs that which is approved according to oppressive standards for proper use and comportment of the body according to sexist, racist, transphobic, homophobic, ablist, agist, sizist, fucked-up-bullshit-that-could-not-be-dumber-if-you-tried norms”.

        31. EG
          EG May 17, 2013 at 2:43 pm |

          Sorry. I didn’t read carefully enough.

        32. macavitykitsune
          macavitykitsune May 18, 2013 at 6:04 pm |

          “The body is a living thing that is self aware and has thoughts. Its opinion of what parts of itself are important is to be given primary consideration by others because that is one of the great perks of sentience”

          And this is a disagreement with my statement that “if women feel like they want/need mastectomies to deal with their breast cancer risk, they should be able to do so without society telling them they have to shut up and take it for Teh Boobiez” how?

          I mean, unless you think that your discomfort with their choices outweighs their ability to decide whether or not they want to take the risk of breast cancer. I’m all ears as to what you think should be priority #1, the woman’s assessment of her body, or your assessment of it.

        33. macavitykitsune
          macavitykitsune May 18, 2013 at 6:06 pm |

          Also, inert = / = unnecessary. My leg is inert when I’m asleep (aside from involuntary muscle spasms or whatever). That doesn’t mean I’d be cool with someone cutting it off.

        34. Lolagirl
          Lolagirl May 20, 2013 at 1:15 pm |

          That’s quite a large claim, and also one for which you have little evidence.

          Extrauterine pregnancies are exceedingly rare and carry with them an astronomically high rate of death and injury to both the pregnant patient and the embryo/fetus. EG’s statement that gestation is the only thing that can absolutely not take place without a uterus is for the most part factually correct.

          This sort of ignoring well-established medical fact is why so many anti-choice laws out there threaten and even cause the death and injury of pregnant people every day in this world in which we live. It’s also why Feminism fights against laws that would do things like prevent patients with ectopic pregnancies from terminating them. The supporters of those types of laws love to point to the one exception in a million who managed to survive a ruptured ectopic, and the one in a billion who actually managed to get a living baby at the end of the pregnancy. But those are truly exceptions to the rule that pregnancy must take place inside a uterus in order to not end up dead and/or with a miscarriage or still birth.

        35. A4
          A4 May 20, 2013 at 1:32 pm |

          EG’s statement that gestation is the only thing that can absolutely not take place without a uterus is for the most part factually correct.

          1) MacavityKitsune made that statement, not EG.

          2) Saying “A uterus is absolutely required for gestation” and saying “Gestation is the only thing that absolutely requires a uterus” are not the same thing and are not logically equivalent. The former appears to be the statement you are supporting by talking about ectopic pregnancies. I would agree with the former as well.

          To say that gestation is the only thing that absolutely requires a uterus requires a complete knowledge of human biology. This is what I believe EG was pointing out when she said “my understanding is that a non-gestating uterus is actually doing a bunch of stuff, some of which we’ve only recently found out about”

          So it appears with a more accurate reading of the conversation that we are not in disagreement after all. How nice for us!

    4. Jenna
      Jenna May 16, 2013 at 12:51 pm |

      The pink washing is a little annoying to me, and I am undergoing treatment for breast cancer.

      However, I admire Angelina for speaking out publicly about her surgery, and about how lucky she is that she can afford all of this and that she has support. In our society it absolutely does make a difference when a celebrity speaks out publicly and willingly about something.

    5. Donna L
      Donna L May 16, 2013 at 9:00 pm |

      EG, bringing up prostates isn’t a good analogy at all. It’s apparently quite difficult surgically to remove a prostate gland — at least without the patient winding up having to pee into a bag for the rest of their lives and never again being able to get an erection because the surgeon wasn’t able to avoid cutting the applicable nerves, given how closely bundled everything is in that particular neighborhood.

      Which is why radical prostatectomies aren’t necessarily so common even when somebody has prostate cancer, never mind when they have a risk of it. And, after all, isn’t it the case that close to 100% of men will end up with prostate cancer eventually if they live long enough?

      I should also point out that even trans women who have GRS don’t get their prostate glands removed. At least, I’ve never heard of one who did. Mine is probably the size of a pea by now, but I imagine it’s still there!

      As far as prophylactic orchiectomies are concerned, I think they’re not unheard of for men with prostate cancer, but you’re right that one doesn’t hear about otherwise healthy men getting them because they’re at a high risk of testicular cancer. But the risk of men getting testicular cancer is rather small, I think, compared to the risk of women getting breast or ovarian cancer, except perhaps for people born with cryptorchidism, who are generally at a very elevated risk. I was born that way, as it happens, so I’m familiar with that risk. (Too bad they didn’t leave me the way I was when I was born, I sometimes think.) Maybe my insurance company would have covered my orchiectomy when I had it a number of years prior to GRS, if I’d claimed that that risk was the reason, and wouldn’t have denied coverage on the grounds that it was “cosmetic surgery,” apparently assuming that I did it so I’d look better in a bathing suit. (Which raises the fact that there are obviously people like me who have theoretically healthy testicles removed for other reasons, but that’s another topic entirely, and they aren’t necessarily men in the first place.)

      1. Willard
        Willard May 17, 2013 at 2:06 am |

        Just adding some numbers:

        From SEER:
        Prostate: 1 in 6, median age of death 80
        Breast: 1 in 8, median age of death 68
        Testicular: 1 in 268 median age of death 40

        -Donna
        I think you may have been thinking of age related enlargement, which is non-cancerous. I had a brief scare with testicular cancer (turned out to be a growing varicocele) and my doctor assured me treatment options and the nature of the beast itself give it one of the highest cure rates out there. So low rate of incidence+pretty great response to treatment=not a lot of news about guys getting orchis.

        -EG
        Neonatal circumcision on people born with a penis could in some circumstances be considered a prophylactic measure. The AAP lists reduction in the incidence of penile cancer and lowered risk of cancer for partners with cervixes (from HPV transmission).

        I certainly think her candor regarding her medical choices is a step towards normalizing that sort of decision and removing the stigma some people may feel about it. It certainly isn’t going to change the world overnight, but I think she really hammered home the point that for her losing the tatas was the way to go. The slippery slope arguments would be understandable if she was a medical professional or policy-maker, but she’s not. If the word of Angelina Jolie drives women to start getting mastectomies by the thousands with no risk of cancer or mental/physical health reasons there’s a problem at a higher level.

      2. EG
        EG May 17, 2013 at 11:51 am |

        Yes, that makes sense…but is that the only reason why removal is so uncommon? Because it seems like hysterectomy would be a better analogy then, as there are numerous complications resulting from that, and yet it has been so common. I’m voting for neither pure practicality nor pure ideology, but a combination of both.

  5. TomSims
    TomSims May 15, 2013 at 2:47 pm |

    I think Angelina is a role model for all women.

  6. Lauren
    Lauren May 15, 2013 at 2:49 pm |

    Considering the massive stigma around mastectomy and women’s fears of feeling less feminine, attractive, or womanly, it’s something for someone considered the “most beautiful woman in the world” to speak so openly about her double mastectomy.

    Also, an interesting way for someone whose body has been considered public property to shift the paradigm a little bit, and publicize her body in a way that highlights social injustice.

    1. Jamie
      Jamie May 15, 2013 at 7:47 pm |

      +1

    2. JBL55
      JBL55 May 16, 2013 at 11:43 am |

      Well put.

      an interesting way for someone whose body has been considered public property to shift the paradigm a little bit, and publicize her body in a way that highlights social injustice.

      Your observation prompted a memory of all the good the late Princess Diana did by being photographed with victims of land mine explosions, saying that as long as they insist on taking her picture, they might as well do so while she had her arms around an injured child and hence publicize her favorite charity.

      She was also credited with helping to remove the stigma associated with AIDS by having her picture taken while she was touching or holding HIV/AIDS patients.

      1. Lauren
        Lauren May 16, 2013 at 2:46 pm |

        Your observation prompted a memory of all the good the late Princess Diana did by being photographed with victims of land mine explosions, saying that as long as they insist on taking her picture, they might as well do so while she had her arms around an injured child and hence publicize her favorite charity.

        She was also credited with helping to remove the stigma associated with AIDS by having her picture taken while she was touching or holding HIV/AIDS patients.

        This is interesting. I totally forgot about this. Good call.

  7. A4
    A4 May 15, 2013 at 3:02 pm |

    I imagine it is much easier to speak openly about one’s mastectomy experiences if one can begin such an article with:

    “Just like Angelina Jolie, I…”

    Angelina Jolie is so glamorous that everyone gets excited when she flashes some leg. it’s really cool that she’d add some glamour to healthcare designed to save women’s lives instead of just their b00bz.

  8. Gerry Dorrian
    Gerry Dorrian May 15, 2013 at 6:26 pm |

    Given Hollywood’s fixation with female stars’ cleavages, which puts adolescent boys everywhere to shame, I think her choice was very brave.

  9. Wordwizard
    Wordwizard May 15, 2013 at 7:18 pm |

    “I acknowledge that there are many wonderful holistic doctors working on alternatives to surgery.”

    PULEEZE! What holistic alternatives? Homeopathy? What toxin would you take to provoke breast cancer, anyway?

    1. (BFing)Sarah
      (BFing)Sarah May 15, 2013 at 8:39 pm |

      I’m not entirely sure if you are being sarcastic, but just in case you are not, because I do legitimately know lots of people who have never heard of the following, I’ll refer you to the documentary “Crazy, Sexy, Cancer” and

      http://gerson.org/gerpress/

      Lots of buzz about that right now. I’m not saying that its a valid alternative, because I have absolutely no idea whether it is. I am not a doctor, nor a cancer patient. I just know there is lots of talk about “holistic” cancer treatment and “preventative eating” and that sort of thing. Like I said, I’m not endorsing it, but its definitely out there.

      What I don’t like is when people are all like, “Why doesn’t ___ try holistic treatment like at the Gerson center? Chemo is poison!” That’s fu*king annoying. You don’t have cancer, you don’t know what you’d do when you get that diagnosis, period. You have no right to tell another person what they “should” do in that situation. Until you have faced down a diagnosis and then decided AGAINST doing what conventional medicine and your trained onc have recommended, then you can spout off about it. Until that time, you can’t say sh*t about it, IMHO.

      1. Anna
        Anna May 17, 2013 at 3:44 pm |

        The Gerson method is 100 percent pure quackery. There are many reliable sources out there, but here’s a place to start: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.3322/canjclin.40.4.252/pdf

        It really does sicken me that there are hucksters out there making loads of money by preying on patients’ fears and lying about risk. These “holistic” “doctors” do not practice informed consent.

        1. (BFing) Sarah
          (BFing) Sarah May 18, 2013 at 7:43 pm |

          Interesting article! MUCH more informative than the documentary I watched on Gerson, which didn’t really detail the foods required and only really mentioned the juices and coffee enemas (but not how frequently they were required). What really strikes me is how you have to commit to following the method for 18 mos and how they claim that have chemo treatment makes it less likely you will be cured. Umm…some people would definitely not make it 18 mos with no chemo. I guess they focus on early and intermediate stages, but still…it could spread in that time. They certainly have given themselves lots of “outs” as to why people aren’t “cured”!

    2. Fat Steve
      Fat Steve May 19, 2013 at 3:11 pm |

      Holistic = / = Homeopathy

      Homeopathy is a quack practice that has no basis in scientific method and lines the pockets of unscrupulous individuals.

      A Holistic approach would be for a doctor to consider patients overall health, well-being and stress levels when making a diagnosis and prognosis- at the same time providing the best medicine available. When my wife had Hodgkins we took a holistic approach, at which the center was chemotherapy followed by radiation therapy. I do believe SOME of the complementary items (meditation, positive outlook, basically the ‘in your head’ ones,) helped at the very least ease the process and relieve some symptoms, or even if they didn’t, my wife thought they did, which helped her, even if in a tiny way.

      1. camille
        camille May 22, 2013 at 5:44 am |

        Homeopathy is a quack practice that has no basis in scientific method and lines the pockets of unscrupulous individuals.

        Yes.

        It’s becoming so rare to see that expressed. More and more it seems like we’re slipping back into the Dark Ages, and that everyone is perfectly ok with it. Mind-boggling.

  10. Laurie Mann
    Laurie Mann May 15, 2013 at 7:29 pm |

    I applaud Angelina Jolie for coming out about this. She’s the most famous person to have this surgery and it will help people to pay attention.

    I’m old enough to remember nearly 40 years ago when Betty Ford, then First Lady, had a breast cancer and a mastectomy. Almost no one spoke about them in those days. I was a teenager at the time and had only known one woman who’d had one when Mrs. Ford came out of the cancer closet. While it’s more common for women to talk about breast cancer now than it was then, prophalactic mastectomies, while women are definitely having them, are not talked about much yet.

  11. Tom
    Tom May 16, 2013 at 12:19 am |

    Our job is not to question; our job is to create a world where a woman isn’t pressured to make medical choices based on society’s expectations of her body, and then leave her to make her choices in that free environment.

    I think in Jolie’s case, it would be sensible to acknowledge that it’s not just society’s expectations of her body directly, but her employers’ expectations of her body driven by an understanding of its role in selling their product.

    Jolie was cast as the famously big-breasted personification of femininity under the male gaze, Lara Croft, in several films. There is clearly a relationship between her breasts, her livelihood and her celebrity. This makes her decision to get a double mastectomy a little different, perhaps more heroic since she has more to lose, perhaps less heroic since she has so much anyway.

    1. buffalin
      buffalin May 16, 2013 at 2:43 pm |

      Well stated, Tom.

  12. susan
    susan May 16, 2013 at 10:18 am |

    Bottom line, she could have done this without making it public and nobody would have been the wiser. Sure, Radar and other sites would speculate if she had had a “mommy lift” to “restore” her pre-pregnancy look. She did have some fab breasts BTW

    She took a big risk to her brand as a sexy star to go public. This is way different than just getting implants and I admire her guts for the op-ed as much as the decision to go forward with the procedure.

  13. Melanie
    Melanie May 16, 2013 at 10:48 am |

    Yes, to all of the above.

    And yet… Angelina is a top movie star; her body is her asset as much as any skill in acting she may have. In a industry that insists on the never-ending quest for perfection, having one’s breast tissue surgically removed IS brave. Going public required even more courage.

    And yet… As she, herself, notes, Angelina is privileged to be able to afford preventative tests and procedures. Many women cannot afford treatment at all, preventative or reactive, or will have to face the public health system or medicaid or whatever options are open to them in their country. They will not have top specialists or private clinics or access to therapists at will and a team dedicated to softening every blow, cushioning very reality. Their courage is no less than Angelina’s.

  14. Liz
    Liz May 16, 2013 at 11:56 am |

    Everyone here is talking about how brave she is by having her breasts removed. No one seems to mention that she is having reconstructive surgery. She will still have breasts. While I feel it is brave to undergo such a major surgery (every major surgery has a risk of serious complications and death) that she has a 13% chance of not actually needing, the removal of her breasts is not brave because she will still have breasts, even if they are fake.

    I, personally, wished she would have chosen not to have the reconstruction. She still has a kicking body, and its not like she was taking her top off in the movies anyways. There are plenty of famous actresses that are not well endowed (see Keira Knightley) but they are still considered sexy.

    I think it could have been very empowering for her to show that she can still be sexy without breasts and that her breasts were not what defined her. Of course, she has a right to make whatever choice she wants, and here I am criticizing it when I have never even been close to the position that she is in, nor can I say I wouldn’t make the same choice. But I bet it would be alot easier for women to make the choice not to have reconstruction (which is another major surgery with just as many risks, as well as the risk of having a foreign object in your body for the rest of your life) if she could have said that she didnt want or need it. I just feel like we’ve had the conversation about breast cancer awareness being about “saving the tatas” and this was a chance to show that a treatment for the prevention of breast cancer was about saving the person.

    1. macavitykitsune
      macavitykitsune May 16, 2013 at 12:20 pm |

      No one seems to mention that she is having reconstructive surgery.

      From the OP:

      “Jolie says she’ll be getting a reconstruction, and her reasons are hers. Our job is not to question; our job is to create a world where a woman isn’t pressured to make medical choices based on society’s expectations of her body”

      So, actually, people did mention it. Like Caperton.

      here I am criticizing it when I have never even been close to the position that she is in, nor can I say I wouldn’t make the same choice

      Yes. Might I suggest stopping? Angelina Jolie is not required to make her own private choices with The Good Of All Womankind in mind. Nor is she required to jeopardise her career in an industry that requires normative physical attractiveness (which acting does, unlike, say, teaching or being a mechanic or being a chef) in order to be a better role model.

      1. Liz
        Liz May 16, 2013 at 12:45 pm |

        When I said no one, I meant the comments. Most (maybe not all) the comments discuss how brave she is being because the industry she is in has an insane focus on her body, but really, from the outside, (unless she goes for a different size), no one will be able to tell she’s had anything done.

        So, did you actually want to discuss the issues I brought up or just criticize me for introducing them? I feel like this is a valid issue to discuss. Or is the personal not political now?

        I really tried to be polite in my post, you could have done the same.

        1. macavitykitsune
          macavitykitsune May 16, 2013 at 1:52 pm |

          When I said no one, I meant the comments.

          Maybe we’re just not a bunch of judgy people who feel like if someone wants to have their body resemble its past self as closely as possible, after undergoing major goddamn surgery, they shouldn’t have to face a sea of waggling fingers. YMMV.

          So, did you actually want to discuss the issues I brought up or just criticize me for introducing them?

          Yes, I just wanted to criticise you for introducing them, frankly. I don’t like body policing of any kind; not the kind that requires people to fit the patriarchal mold, and not the kind that chides people for fitting it. I don’t see how your insistence that Angelina Jolie not get reconstruction in order to suit your taste is any better than the dudebro hating on her for getting the mastectomies and not suiting his. If Jolie wants to have her breasts reconstructed, who are you (who has no experience in this) to tell her she’s being a coward or a bad role model? There are women here who’ve both had and not had reconstruction who are telling you to stop. Please stop.

          I feel like this is a valid issue to discuss.

          Good for you. There are several sites on which you can shame her for deciding what to do with her own body. Since Caperton explicitly pointed out that Jolie’s choice is her own, I reckon this site doesn’t have to join the happy throng, don’t you?

          Also, I’m not sure where you’re getting any impoliteness in my earlier reply. Impatience, yes. This one’s considerably less polite.

        2. Drahill
          Drahill May 16, 2013 at 2:03 pm |

          Liz, you didn’t raise any major points in your initial post. You basically just said, “She didn’t need reconstruction, Keira Knightly has small boobs and she’s hot!”

          Maybe she didn’t like how her chest looked without reconstruction. Maybe she felt out of place without something there on her chest. Maybe she owns many lovely bras and did not want to part with them. Point is, there are a wide variety of reasons why a woman would opt for reconstruction. Your use of “the personal is political” doesn’t hold water here – because that’s not what it means. It means that our lives are spaced by the decisions and politics that go on around us and we, through personal narrative, have the ability to influence them as well. It has never meant “every decision a woman makes is open to critique because she is a Big Cheese who should be repping for Feminism of all of womankind.”

          I always find it odd that the reconstruction debate always comes up with boobs, but not much else. My uncle lost his eye some years ago. He wears a glass one now for cosmetic purposes. Nobody has ever questioned whether or not he does anything wrong by opting for a cosmetic prosthesis (and unless you spent some time with him, you’d never know he had a fake eye). Do we place this same burden on people who choose other forms of reconstruction or prosthetics? Not really. In my post above, I noted that in an ideal situation, removing one’s breasts would be no more culturally significant than removing any other tissue or body part. If we hope to actually make that so, we need to stop offering critiques of what a woman chooses to do with her own breasts and focus on how more women can feel empowered to make their own medical decision, full stop.

        3. Liz
          Liz May 16, 2013 at 2:55 pm |

          Drahill, thank you for pointing out how badly I articulated my point. That was exactly not the point I was trying to make. I just wanted to express my disappointment that this was an almost perfect opportunity to upend America’s views of women’s value and beauty standards that wasn’t taken. I tried to illustrate that with an example but it all seems to have blown up in my face.

          Her decision is hers to make for her own reasons and she does not owe any explanation.

        4. Drahill
          Drahill May 16, 2013 at 3:20 pm |

          Liz, let me just finish this conversation by noting that you should never, ever argue that a woman’s private medical decisions are a “perfect opportunity” for anything. Just don’t do that from now on, okay? You can use your own body to make a statement, but don’t wish for anybody else to use their’s to suit your fancy.

        5. Fat Steve
          Fat Steve May 22, 2013 at 9:41 am |

          When I said no one, I meant the comments. Most (maybe not all) the comments discuss how brave she is being because the industry she is in has an insane focus on her body, but really, from the outside, (unless she goes for a different size), no one will be able to tell she’s had anything done.

          Ummmm, that’s EXACTLY why it was brave to go public with it! Because she quite possibly could have hid it, but went public to spread awareness!

          So, did you actually want to discuss the issues I brought up or just criticize me for introducing them? I feel like this is a valid issue to discuss. Or is the personal not political now?

          I really tried to be polite in my post, you could have done the same

          You were rather impolite in your post, trying to disguise outright judgements by prefacing sentences with ‘I think…’ and “I personally would have…’

          You’re criticizing her for worrying about whether Hollywood will make a judgement on her based on whether or not she’s had reconstruction- yet you yourself are judging her on that basis.

    2. Jenna
      Jenna May 16, 2013 at 12:29 pm |

      Angelina probably felt she had less freedom on the choice to reconstruct or not than I do. Her shape is a business asset for her, and I have absolutely no problem with her choosing reconstruction. She can make a splash news wise with her announcement, and that’s enough for me. It will make it less of a shock for a few other people, and she attempted to bring attention to how much this costs for people without her extensive resources.
      Myself, I am undergoing treatment for breast cancer , and my surgery is a couple weeks from now. I am NOT planning to reconstruct, and it feels like a political statement sometimes. Other times I am aware that my identity was never tied to my breasts, and I just don’t want to have to worry about them anymore. I don’t want to have to worry about the cancer returning, or implants leaking, or more surgery. I’m done. So very done.
      Personally, I don’t need Angelina to choose the same thing I do. Her publicity is enough for me. I can’t imagine it was easy to make that public, but, at least she scooped the tabloids.

      1. JBL55
        JBL55 May 16, 2013 at 12:41 pm |

        I don’t want to have to worry about the cancer returning, or implants leaking, or more surgery.

        I don’t blame you one bit.

        If all the breast tissue is removed, you shouldn’t have to worry about the cancer returning, and the progress made on implants is astonishing. But when it comes to more surgery, boy oh boy, I completely sympathize.

        That’s the one downside about having implants — there might come a time when I’d need or want to have them changed, and all I can think about is those damned drains. :-)

      2. camille
        camille May 22, 2013 at 6:13 am |

        Jenna-

        You are a rock star for the way you responded to Liz’s comment. Your opinion is different from hers, and you explained it clearly and without attacking.

        It’s so much better to take in and process all the differing arguments and many, many good points being raised in these comments, when people aren’t screaming at each other. The bickering is just draining. Kind of misses the point of why we’re all in here reading this same article.

        Wishing you a smooth course of treatment…

    3. JBL55
      JBL55 May 16, 2013 at 12:29 pm |

      I have never even been close to the position that she is in

      I have.

      she will still have breasts, even if they are fake

      No, she won’t. She will have what I have: breast-like objects. They will never feed anyone, and they will lack the feeling and sensitivity her now-gone breasts had.

      this was a chance to show that a treatment for the prevention of breast cancer was about saving the person.

      It was, and that’s exactly what she did.

      She isn’t making a big deal about reconstruction. You are.

      And given that you don’t know squat about reconstruction, let alone the process that goes into making these kinds of decisions, I can only second macavitykitsune’s recommendation: stop.

    4. bc_survivor
      bc_survivor May 16, 2013 at 1:56 pm |

      Hey, macavitykitsune, any more advice for those of us who have had mastectomies? What we should do with our bodies? How we might like them to look, or feel? Should I feel normal without breasts? Should I be unconcerned that none of my clothes fit after a mastectomy? I agree that breasts don’t define a woman, and I’m certainly not taking my top off for the movies, and god knows, that there’s definitely nothing to process psychologically once you have body parts removed.

      And I’m sure you’ve seen post-mastectomy reconstructed breasts, right? Totally normal. Inches of scars…I mean, you can’t feel anything anymore, but who cares, right?

      Such good advice you’ve provided here! And such mass quantities of sensitivity for other feminists who have had to deal with breast cancer. Thanks!

      1. macavitykitsune
        macavitykitsune May 16, 2013 at 2:50 pm |

        Hey, macavitykitsune, any more advice for those of us who have had mastectomies?

        whut in the whut? I did nothing of the things you’re claiming I did. WTF?!?

        Are you sure you aren’t talking to Liz?

        1. BoyOrHedgehog
          BoyOrHedgehog May 17, 2013 at 3:04 am |

          Yeah, I think so. Only explanation that makes sense here.

    5. Lolagirl
      Lolagirl May 16, 2013 at 6:41 pm |

      While I feel it is brave to undergo such a major surgery (every major surgery has a risk of serious complications and death) that she has a 13% chance of not actually needing, the removal of her breasts is not brave because she will still have breasts, even if they are fake.

      Really, you should have just stopped at the part where she is brave for having bilateral mastectomy and left it at that. Because you are correct about the risk of complications, such as infection and hemorrhage, and they are not to be underestimated. So what if she is getting reconstructive surgery afterwards? It’s nobody’s business, and Ms. Jolie alone is the one who should decide what should or should not happen to her body.

      And ffs, there is nothing wrong with wanting to get reconstructive surgery and implants, if the patient themselves wants it. Sure, there’s a whole lot of societal nonsense associated with women and their breasts, but saying it would be braver for Ms. Jolie to go forward with the rest of her life without breasts is a whole lot of bullshit right there. I mean, seriously, that’s some pretty disgusting body policing going on to even premise such an idea. Having breasts, or not having breasts, having big ones, or small ones, or in-between ones is a deeply personal matter, and it’s nobody’s business what size they are, save for the person carrying them around on their person on a daily basis.

  15. bc_survivor
    bc_survivor May 16, 2013 at 2:10 pm |

    My apologies: the above post should have been directed at Liz.

    1. macavitykitsune
      macavitykitsune May 16, 2013 at 2:51 pm |

      Eek, okay. Thanks for clarifying, I was pretty horrified for a bit.

      1. bc_survivor
        bc_survivor May 16, 2013 at 2:55 pm |

        Yes! Sorry! Sorry!

        1. macavitykitsune
          macavitykitsune May 16, 2013 at 2:57 pm |

          No worries! Damn threaded comments always trip me up, too. ^__^ And I’m sorry you went through that, bc_s, and then had this shit piled on you in a thread that should have been centring you.

      2. Karak
        Karak May 16, 2013 at 3:01 pm |

        I saw the mis-directed response and I was like OMG did macavitykitsune really say that?! Did she have some kind of brain transplant? Is she not eating enough leafy greens?!

        1. macavitykitsune
          macavitykitsune May 16, 2013 at 11:12 pm |

          I ate a salad for supper just to be sure! ;)

    2. JBL55
      JBL55 May 16, 2013 at 3:04 pm |

      The problem is two-fold. First, after enough nested comments, it’s not always clear where one is in a particular thread. And second, the comments nest only so far before losing the direct “reply” button.

      :-(

      1. bc_survivor
        bc_survivor May 16, 2013 at 3:09 pm |

        Also problematic: blind rage. :)

  16. macavitykitsune
    macavitykitsune May 16, 2013 at 8:52 pm |

    Relevant comic strip:
    http://rosalarian.tumblr.com/post/50452207989/tickingtimebomb

    Not that anyone here is arguing that, but I thought it would make a good handy resource for anyone here engaging in this debate on Facebook or whatever with some clueless dudeperson.

    1. olympia
      olympia May 16, 2013 at 9:41 pm |

      Yeah, I find that comic very relevant indeed! Not that I, personally, have to contend with an 87% chance of breast cancer, something I’m very thankful for. I am interested in hearing about the experience of women who, having tested positive for BRCA1, have opted not to go with prophylactic mastectomy- that isn’t a choice I’ve read about much, but I’d like to know more about it, and the reasons women make it.

      I also wonder why we haven’t heard more about the fact Jolie’s also having her ovaries removed- a surgery that, while it doesn’t have an obvious effect on appearance like mastectomy, has a pretty huge impact in general.

  17. Fat Steve
    Fat Steve May 17, 2013 at 1:18 pm |

    Does it qualify as “brave” or “heroic” to get a preventive mastectomy? I don’t know.

    To get one? Brave, certainly, like any surgery takes an element of bravery. Heroic? Well..like you, I don’t know.

    However, If you work in Hollywood, as an actress, if you are known and paid millions due to fitting some sort of idealized body type, to risk losing all that by admitting you’ve had this surgery in a public arena in order to help other women, well…to me that is hugely brave and quite heroic.

  18. Drahill
    Drahill May 17, 2013 at 2:54 pm |

    EG, I take no issue with your personal discomfort, anymore than you would take issue with mine. What I took issue with is that you are suggesting that a procedure should be suspect merely because of a history of misuse (even though you cite hysterectomies in your example, not masectomies). I’m of the opinion that any medical procedure, not just those that remove tissue, should be viewed by the patient with enough skepticism to make a rational choice. Somehow, I suspect you don’t feel the same way about smaller tissue extractions or those done to other “less female” body parts. You basically tried to argue for your skepticism by making a totally useless and non-analagous comparison to men, which you dropped like a hot potato as soon as mac, myself and Donna pointed out how poor it was. If your personal skepticism is fed by looking at history, that is your perogative. But overall, I was pointing out that none of the points you made actually made the case for skeptism. If you wanna keep trying, that’s on you. In addition, one thing you have failed to mention is that we do not know whether the system is working in the same way now. In years past, doctors were actively pushing and promoting hysterecomies to women. I would say you have a strong point if there is evidence that masectomies are being aggressively pushed for women. However, the opposite seems to be happening – the largest push seems to be towards breast preservation – and whether that is advisable is another question entirely.

    @A4 – your breasts ARE inert tissue most of the time. Saying that does not mean they aren’t a part of you. Inert tissue means tissue that isn’t actively working or providing you with benefits. Your breasts, unless lactating, don’t do much. They actually provide far more benefit to others than to you, from a biological perspective. Thus, they are tissue that can usually be removed easily and their removal has minimal side effects on overall bodily function. Nobody is saying breasts aren’t a part of you (but, so are a lot of other things). But Mac’s point is still valid.

    1. A4
      A4 May 17, 2013 at 4:36 pm |

      They actually provide far more benefit to others than to you, from a biological perspective.

      Let’s stop prioritizing this mythical “biological perspective” because it’s often irrelevant to people’s actual experiences of their body. Let’s ESPECIALLY not use it to dictate to someone what benefits each of their body parts provides. This medical objectification is also used as the basis for a fuckton of transphobia. Doctors have been using their “objective biological perspective” to justify a lot of really oppressive practices and ideologies for a long time. The medical establishment deserves as much skepticism as one can muster.

      The thing is that each person experiences their body not as an object, but also as subject. Each body part is a part of your self conception, a part of your mind, and is experienced as essentially you. You cannot dictate how it will or won’t effect someone when you remove or otherwise manipulate something that they have carried as an integrated part of their self for their entire life.

      I see no reason to subordinate my experience of my body to the normative definitions and classifications of the medical establishment. Medical information should inform our experiences of our bodies, not try to dictate it.

      So tell me my breast tissue is inert because it does not produce any crucial life supporting chemicals. Describe the known medical consequences of removal and how I might experience my body differently during and after the procedure. Don’t tell me that it “isn’t providing me with benefits” just because you found a way to cut it out of me without killing me. Don’t pretend there aren’t serious considerations to removing even the most “inert” of body tissues.

    2. EG
      EG May 17, 2013 at 9:17 pm |

      If you take no issue with my discomfort, then who typed the sentence “I’m still struggling to see how bringing up your personal feelings is really germane to the conversation”?

      I…didn’t drop it–if you look at my reply to Donna, I acknowledge that biology no doubt plays a large role, but I didn’t and don’t think that the reason men don’t have prophylactic amputations but women do is only biological and completely ideology-free. Nor did I say that mastectomies are analogous to hysterectomies; I said that I see mastectomies as part of a constellation of various other ways that women have been pressured to have body parts coded as female cut away or encouraged to think of such body parts as not necessary–I included contralateral and unnecessary radical mastectomies as well.

      You may think that being part of a subjugated group consistently targeted by medical wisdom for highly questionable procedures is irrelevant to skepticism and the way one approaches current medical wisdom, or just a personal quirk, or whatever; I think that shows a touching and naive faith in current medical expertise as it interacts with an anti-woman culture. Again, the HRT debacle was, what, ten years ago?

      I would say you have a strong point if there is evidence that masectomies are being aggressively pushed for women. However, the opposite seems to be happening – the largest push seems to be towards breast preservation – and whether that is advisable is another question entirely.

      Again, as I have mentioned several times, I was replying to mac’s specific question about what the problem would be if women have unnecessary elective mastectomies. You can tell because of the way I block-quoted that question at the beginning of the reply.

      Somehow, I suspect you don’t feel the same way about smaller tissue extractions or those done to other “less female” body parts.

      Do I have less concern about the impact of sexist ideologies on medical procedures done to body parts not generally coded as female? Yes, yes I do. I don’t understand your point here. I say look, this establishment has a history of sexism, and you say, I bet you’re not as worried about non-gendered aspects of that establishment’s practice? O…K. You got me with that one. By “smaller tissue extractions,” do you mean lumpectomies specifically? Or what? Personally, I am quite cautious with any medical procedure unless there’s immediate cause for alarm, including the what do you call it–the aspiration of the cyst in my breast the size of a kalamata olive that caused my scare a few years back. Because while I am very pro-medical science, I don’t think they know everything there is to know, so I’d just as soon leave well enough alone. But yes, the less radical/comprehensive/permanent a procedure is, the less concerned I am about it. Again, what’s your point? That I have greater concern about major procedures than more minor ones? Again, yes, yes, I do. Because of that very difference.

      They actually provide far more benefit to others than to you, from a biological perspective.

      From a biological perspective, they provide me with all the benefits of a sexually mature cis female body My body is not modular. I can survive losing certain parts of it, but that doesn’t mean those parts are not fully integrated aspects of the whole. And that’s just assuming that ten or twenty years down the road, they won’t discover some other functions that we don’t yet know about.

  19. Georgia Platts
    Georgia Platts May 19, 2013 at 1:39 am |

    “and with that platform her comments may drive more women to have prophylactic mastectomies”

    I’m not too worried about that. I can’t imagine that women would have this sort of surgery unless they were at high risk for cancer. And in that case I am hopeful that Angelina’s experience will aid them in their journey.

    Getting these things out into the light of day seems better than keeping them in the dark.

    1. Leah
      Leah May 22, 2013 at 3:38 pm |

      I’m not too worried about that. I can’t imagine that women would have this sort of surgery unless they were at high risk for cancer.

      THANK YOU. This concern trolling about women running out and getting majorly invasive surgery because they saw Angelina Jolie do it smacks of “wommenz, they be too dumbz to know what they’re doing” anti-choice paternalism.

      Seriously, do we trust women or not?

  20. Surviving
    Surviving May 19, 2013 at 10:12 pm |

    I’m glad Jolie did this, but am amazed that so many people thought it was “brave,” or that it has made a big difference. It would have made a much bigger difference if she had chosen not to be reconstructed. I was railroaded into getting implants after my mastectomy and was shocked at how much ongoing suffering and strangeness (invasion) is involved–all denied or ignored, even by women’s advocates who think it is our “right” to look “normal” (that is, to pretend we are living in a “whole,” “healthy,” “real woman’s” body instead of our own body that shows the path we have traveled). For those who don’t know, the typical implant is inserted behind the pectoral muscle, and expanded like a bladder, not just stretching that muscle but pulling on all the skeletal structures attached to it. It changes the internal arrangement of the body, and can block the flow of lymph fluids.

    It is our right, and I wouldn’t argue with anyone’s choice to have the surgery; I understand and defend my sister’s choice. However, in too many cases, more than we can possibly know, it interferes with our recovery.

    Fortunately, my body rejected the implant on one side, which meant that removal was covered by insurance! I hated those implants, and hated the lie. I hated the lack of sensation, hated not feeling the people I was embracing. Of course, I’m not Angelina Jolie, and my career does not depend on looking anything like her. Ha ha! That’s why I got an education…so I wouldn’t be reduced to selling my carnal self on the open market.

    More seriously, as a people we will not come to terms with this epidemic until we start to see it in ourselves–in the mirror, in our sisters, in the street, and on the screen.

    1. Fat Steve
      Fat Steve May 20, 2013 at 2:44 pm |

      That’s why I got an education…so I wouldn’t be reduced to selling my carnal self on the open market.

      Are you shitting me?

      I’m assuming that Caperton’s question is also rhetorical, but please allow me to ask a rhetorical question. Are you saying that it is Angelina Jolie’s lack of education is what has led to her taking the career path in which she is uniquely suited to be successful?

    2. Natalia
      Natalia May 21, 2013 at 7:40 am |

      Of course, I’m not Angelina Jolie, and my career does not depend on looking anything like her. Ha ha! That’s why I got an education…so I wouldn’t be reduced to selling my carnal self on the open market.

      O hi. I was really enjoying your comment – until I got to this part and wondered WTF is wrong with you. She’s just too “uneducated,” is she?

      Out of all of the potshots taken at Jolie recently that *I’ve* seen, this one must surely take the cake.

    3. macavitykitsune
      macavitykitsune May 21, 2013 at 11:05 am |

      Well, if your career doesn’t depend on “selling your carnal self”, why let yourself be “railroaded” into getting implants? It would have made much more of a difference if you had immediately chosen to avoid reconstruction, instead of going with the flow and contributing to the epidemic. I don’t see what’s so brave about your decision, if it comes from a place of being unable to sustain implants, as opposed to choosing to remain without reconstruction. At least that’s what I’d prefer, and I have no compunctions making public statements on other women’s bodies on feminist sites, since, in my humble opinion, that doesn’t constitute shaming and pointless persecution as much as a compassionate and nuanced airing of my own personal views.

      This parade of women who refuse to adhere to my preferences as to what they should do with their bodies is shocking. Shocking.

      In case anyone can’t tell, this post is snark.

    4. Willard
      Willard May 21, 2013 at 11:22 am |

      Wow, if you’re coming down this hard on a woman who does humanitarian aid around the world, uses that carnal self money to endow support systems for refugees worldwide, and all that jazz I can only imagine the disdain for all the other women forced to sell themselves you must feel. Glad to see that education taught you jack all about being a human being.

      1. macavitykitsune
        macavitykitsune May 21, 2013 at 11:41 am |

        Yes. I also love surviving’s apparent implication that they could totally be just like Angelina Jolie, except they’re too edumacated. (I mean, it’s not like being an A-list actress in Hollywood takes work or anything, amirite?)

        1. Lolagirl
          Lolagirl May 21, 2013 at 1:47 pm |

          But of course it’s feminist to make sexist offensive reasonable assumptions about the brain power of women who become Hollywood actresses and are widely viewed accepted as a model of feminine beauty. Smart ladies use their smarts to go to college, and get an education, and don’t trifle with such silly aspirations as acting, and they never, ever care a whit about their physical appearance.

          Of course we all accept these assumptions for their truthiness, and never question any of them as being sexist bullshit. Because the One True Feminist!

        2. Donna L
          Donna L May 21, 2013 at 6:56 pm |

          I guess studying acting for a number of years, including at the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute, doesn’t count as education? And I’m not sure that growing up in a Hollywood family, with Jon Voight as one’s father, and pursuing acting beginning in childhood, counts as being “reduced to selling her carnal self on the open market.”

          Don’t be such a snot.

  21. Sharrie
    Sharrie May 28, 2013 at 9:43 am |

    I had to make this decision at the age of 34, when I had found out I was BRCA2+. I struggled with the decision, as it isn’t an easy one. I had just given birth to my daughter a few months prior to finding out. Do I go ahead and have a second child? Do I go through these surgeries now? Or wait until I see signs of cancer? Many more questions came up. I chose to have a second child and then remove both breasts and ovaries. Did I make the wrong decision? Only time will tell.

    I have a maternal aunt who has survived stage 4 ovarian cancer with 3 consecutive days in the hospital for chemo treatment, each round, and breast cancer 14 years later. Then, my sister, 13 months my senior, was diagnosed with breast cancer. She went through the chemo and radiation and was deemed ok. Then my mom had to go through it all. Feeling sick, no appetite because food tastes terrible, no hair so people constantly offering unsolicited advice, success stories, and their stories of loss. Now, after a short summer of relief and feeling like she gets to be here for her 4 year old son, cancer strikes my sister with a vengeance. It’s horrible to watch her die. She died inside before she did outside. She spent most of her time in bed and looked like a zombie when she was up. The sparkle was gone from her beautiful blue eyes. Her biggest fear was leaving behind her 4 year old son.

    Did I make the right decision? I love my 6 year old daughter and 4 year old son more than anything or anyone else in this world. I miss my sister every day, and so does my mom. I may have been selfish by knowingly giving my son a 50/50 chance of carrying the BRCA2 gene (unknowingly to my daughter), but I listened to the advice of oncologists, breast surgeons, geneticists, my experience watching it all happen, and my heart.

    I still question if I made the right decision or not, but I’m here. And I’m not living in constant fear or paranoia of cancer. And I have two beautiful children. And, it was MY decision.

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