TAMPA - A bombshell out of Hollywood. Oscar-winning and box-office superstar Angelina Jolie revealed that she had a double mastectomy just weeks ago.
The actress is talking about her decision to undergo the procedure after testing positive for the B-R-C-A1, a gene that increases a woman's risk of certain cancers.
The news broke overnight in an op-ed in the New York Times written by Jolie herself.
Jolie lost her own mother to cancer and didn't want the same legacy for her own children. She wrote in the article, "We often speak of "mommy's mommy," and I find myself trying to explain the illness that took her away from us. They have asked if the same could happen to me."
A local woman made the same decision as Jolie. She went through the same series of surgeries at about the same time and is now on one week out of her last reconstruction surgery.
She and a local surgeon share the impact Jolie could have on women facing indecision and fear when faced with their inherited risk of getting cancer.
It's a good day for Terri Comeau. She's one week out of her last surgery after her preventative double mastectomy and reconstruction.
Like Angelina Jolie, she tested BRCA positive and chose to have a preventative mastectomy for her family.
Jolie, considered by many to be one of the sexiest women in the world, said in her op-ed that she does not feel less of a woman now.
“I think that's a wonderful message to send to women," said Comeau, "because having a mastectomy, it's major surgery and it does change your body appearance. But there are great reconstruction options out there that you don't feel less sexy or less a woman.”
“That does take a lot of the fear out of the equation. A lot of women who opt to have bilateral mastectomies should know there are a lot of reconstructive options out there like a skin and nipple mastectomy can look just as good as someone getting an augmentation.”
But Dr. Wayne Lee, my plastic surgeon who took me through breast reconstruction, says women shouldn't now rush out to get the BCRA test. “The best thing is for patients to talk to a breast surgeon or oncologist to figure out if their risks justify them to have the BCRA test. There are some standard guidelines for testing by a company Myriad, but every test should be followed by genetic counseling to determine what you want to do with those results.”
Many women on my Facebook page said Jolie is lucky. As a movie star she could afford this preventative surgery, but Dr. Lee says in most cases - if a patient is BCRA positive - insurance will pay for the procedures.
Some others on Facebook have said removing healthy tissue is too drastic. Here is Terris' feeling on that. “To me drastic would be dying from breast cancer. I've seen my aunt die from breast cancer and my grandmother suffering from breast cancer right now. That's drastic to me.”
In the end, having a preventative mastectomy is a personal and family choice. One Terri’s husband and Angelina Jolie's husband supported.
Brad Pitt issued a statement to London's Evening Standard on Jolie's decision, saying "Having witnessed this decision firsthand, I find Angie's choice, as well as many others like her, absolutely heroic."
Terri says no woman should be alone when trying to make such a big decision.
She's an outreach coordinator for FORCE -- Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered. Here’s information on the organization: www.facingourrisk.org , www.facingourrisk.org/tampabay , helpline: 1-866-288-7475, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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