The Breast Conservationists are on full alert. Angelina Jolie bares everything but her new rack, and now responsible scientists and doctors are scared that stupid, stupid women will be lining up for bilateral mastectomies like it’s the wedding dress sale at Filene’s Basement. Otherwise healthy women will be demanding expensive genetic testing, insisting on amputations, and requesting Jolie Boobs from their plastic surgeons. If Angelina Jolie did it, then it’s possible that stupid, stupid women will start shopping for their own, Celebrity Cancer-Preventing Surgery.
Have we demonstrated an uncontrollable need to Be Like Angie? Do we all have slit-up-to-there dresses in our closets and a gazillion babies? (To be fair, I do have my own, Asian Brad Pitt… but I had mine first.) I have to believe that we’re smarter than this. Most of us aren’t Golden Globe-winning UN ambassadors. And most of us don’t carry BRCA mutations: only about 5% of us with breast cancer have the unlucky genes. Angelina Jolie’s story is one of access to superb health care, intelligent, informed consent to risk reduction treatment, and bad-ass, story-sharing bravery. The Breast Conservationists worry that her boldness will undo years of work informing women that they do not need to suffer barbaric surgery to live. But I think Angelina Jolie has done more for breast cancer awareness than all of the pink crap in the world. Angelina heralded the possibility that breast cancer isn’t a dreaded path to ugly.
Perhaps we are all a bit more informed about BRCA mutations and statistics and recommendations than we were on Monday. But what this beautiful woman did in one day was to put a spotlight on breast reconstruction after mastectomy. Living in Boston, and specifically in the same home as someone who does this sort of surgery every single day, (and personally with my own set of silicone bags), it is impossible to believe that only 30% of women are offered or encouraged to seek breast reconstruction options after body mutilating surgery. Despite many, many studies showing that quality of life is significantly improved with breast reconstruction, many women are still discouraged from “unnecessary” or “cosmetic” or “long, painful, and risky” operations that would restore their sense of self. They are (ill-) advised that reconstruction will delay their cancer treatment. Of course I need to insert all sorts of disclaimers that some women are not eligible for current reconstructive efforts because of radiation or extent of disease or other underlying conditions, that some opt out of reconstruction and live comfortably with that choice, that there are always more risks with more surgery. However, everyone should have the information about and access to breast reconstruction. And although there are thousands of cancer bloggers cheerfully over-sharing about their bikini-rific , gravity-defying post-Cancer boobs, you know who they’re really going to believe? Angelina Jolie.
Because Angelina went public with the story of her reconstruction, it’s possible that she has inspired other women to advocate for their right to restore their bodies, to feel empowered, to feel whole. While any diminishment of her hotness was always impossible, she explains how it is also surgically preventable. She writes,
“On a personal note, 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.”
Of course, those of us in the shitty sorority know what she’s not telling us: that she is changed, she’s scarred, and where there was once sensation, there is now the numb reminder of an ever-lurking Cancer. Strong, indeed. And she’s more beautiful than ever.