Film star Angelina Jolie wrote an op-ed in the New York Times about her decision to receive preventative surgery to decrease her risks of breast and ovarian cancer. Jolie has a high risk of developing both forms of cancer because of her genetics: 87% for breast cancer and 50% for ovarian cancer. Jolie says:
I decided to be proactive and to minimize the risk as much as I could. I made a decision to have a preventative double mastectomy. . . I hope that other women can benefit from my experience . . . and then take action.
I admire Angelina Jolie for her decision. Her risk of developing breast cancer has dropped from 87% to 5%. I think Jolie makes a very important point in the op-ed when she says: “I do not feel any less of a woman. I feel empowered that I made a strong choice that in no way diminishes my femininity.
Film stars like Angelina Jolie are often sexualized by their fan base, as are musicians like Beyonce. Women’s breasts are viewed as a commodity, rather than a part of the body. Jolie did not get a “boob job.” She took preventative measures to protect her health and continue to continue her role as a mother. And yet “fans” have been posting comments on Twitter that show the sexism that is so prevalent in popular culture (and American culture in general).
Jolie is lucky that her partner Brad Pitt has been 100% supportive throughout the surgery process. He has publicly called her a hero. I say thumbs up to Brad.
One of the challenges that many people have is the cost of health care in general, especially for surgery. The specific surgery that Jolie received costs $3000. For low-income women like myself, this type of health care seems unattainable. Let me share my own cancer story with you, and then share some resources that will hopefully benefit other women.
I was diagnosed with brain cancer on Super Bowl Sunday 2012. I went to the emergency room because I had a grand mal seizure in the middle of the night. My tongue had been bitten up and I had a huge bump on my head from where I had obviously fallen down. I had no history of epilepsy, so it was a sign that I needed to go to the hospital. I had a CT scan and an MRI. Both of them revealed that I had a a brain tumor, the rarest form of cancer.
I am self-employed and had no insurance at the time. I applied for the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan (aka “Obamacare”) as was lucky enough to be accepted. My biopsy was delayed until August of 2012 when I finally had PCIP insurance. It revealed that I have gliobastoma in the cerebral cortex of my brain. Some types of brain tumors can be surgically removed because they are in parts of the brain that aren’t being used. However, my tumor is in the cerebral cortex, which controls speech and reading comprehension.
I am not telling you my experience because I want pity. I am sharing my experience so that I can hopefully provide a list of resources that have helped me keep a positive attitude during the brain tumor treatment process.
1. Find out if there is a face-to-face support group where you live. I love the brain cancer support group that I attend. People share their stories and talk about the challenges they’ve been having. This Youtube video shows just how helpful in-person support groups can be.
2. Online support groups and blogs are a great way to get daily support. Check out The Liz Army Blog. She is very active on Twitter and she comments daily on the #btsm hashtags. There is #BrainTumorThursday, an online chat with no specific time schedule. People share their stories and buck each other up. The Twitter hashtag for breast cancer is #bcsm.
I also like the 33 Dresses blog and Facebook page. Elissa is a breast cancer survivor, and she shares encouraging ways to stay positive during cancer treatment. She wore a different dress each day during radiation. I wore a different scarf.
3. Stay current on the latest research for different types of cancer treatment. The National Brain Tumor Society provides up -to-date research has different resources as well as information about all the different types of brain cancer.
4. Happiness is a form of courage. One story that I hope provides a final piece of inspiration is this article about a former beauty patent queen named Jamie Hilton who had part of her skull removed after a serious brain injury. Now that her brain has healed, the scar makes her look even more beautiful than ever. I’m kind of digging my bald spots at this point and would love to rock a lezzy mohawk. We’ll see have to wait and see what happens when my hair makes a comeback.
Angelina Jolis isn’t the only person who can make an empowered decision about their health. We all have the choice to be humdrum or to find out what we can do to make an informed decision about our health.
Serena is a freelance writer who enjoys baking, protesting, and playing with little dogs.