In Praise of Angelina

I have always been one of Angelina Jolie’s biggest fans.  The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences saw fit to reward her 1999 performance in “Girl Interrupted” with an Oscar, but I wasn’t well and truly smitten until the second Lara Croft Tombraider movie was released in 2003.  In that film, Jolie, who performs her own stunts, is seen galloping on a dark horse while spinning a heavy shotgun from side to side to shoot alternating targets.  And she is riding SIDESADDLE.  If you don’t believe this, have a look here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tz1lCcs9tac  In the Lara Croft movies, she is the epitome of a strong, athletic, intelligent and self assured woman.  It may not seem like much, but I granted Miss Jolie a high honor indeed—in 2004 I named a dark, agile and fast deerhound puppy after her, the soon to be champion Caerwicce’s Lady Croft, aka “Angelina”.

 

In the years that followed the Lara Croft movies, Angelina Jolie went on to surprise her public in more ways than one.  The girl who initially achieved notoriety for wearing a vial of her second husband Billy Bob Thornton’s blood gained a different type of fame when she adopted a Cambodian child, and subsequently became a respected ambassador for the United Nations.  She has become well known for her humanitarian efforts, devoting as much time to improving the lives of refugee children as she does to her own career.  Recently, she has added the titles of author, director, and Mrs. Brad Pitt to an already impressive resume.

 

But perhaps the biggest surprise of all came two years ago, when she went public in the New York Times with the revelation that she is positive for the breast cancer gene BRCA1. In a moving statement, she wrote of her difficult decision, at age 37, to undergo bilateral prophylactic mastectomies and reconstructive surgeries in the hope of staving off the cancers that took her mother, her grandmother and her aunt.  She was clear and concise, reasonable and dispassionate in her account.   Not only did she raise awareness of the heritable form of breast cancer, she gave courage to all women facing the challenge of a mastectomy.  If one of the worlds most beautiful and sexy women could undergo such surgery in the glare of the celebrity spotlight and come out looking stronger and even more beautiful, so could some of the rest of us.

 

Today she has done it again.  In a New York Times article entitled “Diary of a Surgery” (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/24/opinion/angelina-jolie-pitt-diary-of-a-surgery.html?ref=opinion&_r=0 ), she reveals that she has recently undergone removal of her ovaries and fallopian tubes to prevent ovarian cancer, the disease that killed her mother.  She describes precisely the terror she felt when informed that some recent blood tests were equivocal, the dreadful anticipation of the results of a PET/CT scan and the realization that now, at age 39, she has entered menopause.  But she also describes the relief she felt once she had made a decision to go ahead with the preventive surgery: “I know my children will never have to say, ‘Mom died of ovarian cancer’.”

There’s bravery and then there’s true courage and grit.  It’s one thing to perform gymnastics while swinging from the rafters of the Croft estate, or to shoot a rifle off the back of a galloping horse.  It’s quite another to write clearly and objectively the story of being diagnosed with a genetic mutation, and of the careful informed decisions she made to minimize her risks, while at the same time admitting that her decisions were not necessarily the right ones for everyone.  As Angelina says, “Knowledge is power.”  We owe her thanks for sharing hers with us.

 

17 thoughts on “In Praise of Angelina

    • Almost all insurance companies DO pay for it because the cost/benefit ration pays out. It is much easier in terms of cost to prevent cancer than to treat it, considering the costs of chemotherapy and radiation along WITH the surgery. And the risk in these patients is so high that it is not a question of if they will develop cancer so much as when. Insurance pays for BRCA testing also, if you have a high risk profile. M

  1. Beauty AND brains…a winning combination (with no one forgetting she’s Mrs. Brad Pitt)! What an amazing role model she has become through the years…ultimately now opening up a world-wide conversation regarding BRCA testing for those women at risk. Compliments on your posting here. : )

  2. I must admit when I first knew who she was, it didn’t make an impression on me either way as I was not a big moviegoer, etc. i really had no reason to notice her. But over the years, I have come to admire how she uses her persona to make positive and informative contributions to our world. Well done, indeed.

  3. Thanks for the story of a courageous woman. I, too, underwent surgical menopause at 39, and have never regretted it…

  4. She has common sense, but does that equate to “courage”? Respectfully, my friend, people who submit to treatment for life-threatening diseases or who have the sense to take prophylactic steps to forestall development of a likely illness are not “courageous.” They’re people who have bad luck, good sense, or both. But they’re not heroes.

    This particular cliche sets my teeth on edge.

    • I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree. Speaking as a true risk averse surgical wimp myself, I think ANYONE who has undergone bilateral mastectomies with or with out reconstruction, and surgical menopause is courageous. And being willing to discuss it for the benefit of others is also courageous. My hat’s off to women (and men) who endure the side effects of prevention and/or treatment. M

  5. Fascinating blog and I can’t for the life of me begin to recall how I ended up here.

    I Would prefer this as a PM but not an option: It would seem this is the blog of the girl that stood me up for our one and only date, a Saturday morning bike ride, some 37 years ago, a scolded with a cobalt blue, antique Japanese tea set of a housewarming gift and then vanished in the rivers of time.

    RSVP, CVP

    Jan

    • Jan, it wasn’t me, I promise! 37 years ago I was a medical student in Houston TX, if that helps! Or if I’ve forgotten, I’m more senile than I thought. M

    • This is going to bug me forever – not because of the obviously memorable character I left behind but because I can’t discuss it without sounding like a mad stalker. I’ll assume it’s a pen name, understandable considering the college major. Let me drop some names to see if they ring a bell: Clarence Alfrey III, Ed Lynch, Bob Hettig. They, and especially the Pedi Hem/Onc guys, tried their best to get me to follow in their shoes but I was seduced by the dark side. And I think Morningside was the site of the Saturday morning fiasco.
      How’d I do?

  6. As breast cancer survivor, all I can think of, is what’s the big damned deal about breasts? It’s not like losing a leg or an arm. No real handicap is incurred by it’s loss. If people are more worried about what clothing they will or won’t be able to wear, post-operatively, then I would say it is also a shame that society has brainwashed women to the extent that their entire self worth is dictated by their appearance. Perhaps we should start there and reconsider what is really important in life. How frivolous really, compared to surviving, is worrying about your wardrobe?
    The same pressures are not heaped upon male cancer survivors.
    Hell even the American Cancer Society does that “look good feel better” crap, and presumably putting on some make up make everything ok again. Did anyone tell Lance Armstrong to wear a wig when he was sick or was his entire treatment team concerned with returning him to racing, rather than merely making him pretty? (yea, i know about the cheating, I don’t care, what he did was still amazing)
    So much focus also tends to be put on “saving the breast” at all costs…Why? It’s only a big deal because everyone makes it out to be such.

    I pity the people that attach their self esteem and sexuality to a lump of fat.

    At my Dx meeting with my surgeon I said I wanted to remove both and he patronizingly told me that I was in a bad state to make decisions at that moment. I was 35, had family hx, and aggressive tumors. Yes, Multiple. He said, well let’s just take one off and if after a year you still want to do the other one, I will do it then. I was too in shock at that point to put up much of a fight. I did come back a year and a half later (after triathlon season was over!) and schedule a 2nd mastectomy.
    Once, I met with one of his surgical partners for a follow up… he asked me why I didn’t opt for reconstruction, as though I had not fulfilled an obligation! I asked him why I should have one? He just shrugged. The entire time I was being treated, I felt that my appearance, rather than my survival or functional use of my body was constantly being considered primary. Ridiculous. Many women are never really presented with the, NO reconstruction is a perfectly fine option. I have spoken to many that wished that it hadn’t been presented to them as “standard” to reconstruct. They would have made different decisions. Not having to wear a sports bra is great!
    Plastics rarely mentions or at least minimizes the bad things that can happen. Excessive procedures, infections, complications, on and on.. Why should women expose themselves to those kinds of risks just have to 2 lumps put back on their chest?
    As a former mammo tech, I know that implants make recurrences harder to find, increase the radiation exposure the patient receives for every image, and they double the number of images that must be acquired at each visit. I know that tram flaps are really nasty surgery,especially if you want to be an active person. Those muscles belong where they are for a reason…Of course, most don’t consider women being active as important… and so on…

    It’s a shame that what she did is considered heroic. I consider it smart and logical. Reconstruction is just make believe anyway. Who cares?
    http://southgeek.blogspot.com/2011/01/heroes-and-tigers-and-saints-oh-my.html

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>