Angie’s Choice

I know, I know, we don’t need yet another blog post about Angelina Jolie’s decision to undergo a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy. She doesn’t need any more attention.

But that’s exactly what drew me to write this–she doesn’t need any more attention. She didn’t have to write that graceful and lovely piece for the New York Times. She could have gone on being one of the world’s most famous women without sharing her secret. But she chose to tell us about her medical choice, in the hope it would help other women.

As usual, people who know absolutely nothing about what it’s like to lose a loved one too young to cancer, who know absolutely nothing about being told you have a genetic time bomb ready to go off–87 percent chance, anyone?–decided to judge her choice.

I have a message for people of the judgmental persuasion. Until you know what it’s like to hear the words “You have cancer,” or to lose your mother or sister or daughter to it, you don’t get a vote. (Even then, you don’t get a vote; but you’re far less likely to want one.) Check the beam in your own eye, if you tend toward the Biblical. If you don’t, let me put it in language you’ll understand. Shut. The. Fuck. Up.

I said it in my 10 Commandments of Breast Cancer and I’ll say it again: Thou shalt not judge someone else’s treatment or reconstruction choices.

My own choice: I had no family history when I was diagnosed five years ago so I opted not to get genetic testing. I also opted for a single mastectomy for DCIS. I know of many young women who opted for the bilateral in that situation. They did what was right for their specific situation and risk tolerance; I did what was right for mine.

One thing I wish I’d seen covered more: Ms. Jolie mentioned how expensive the BRCA test is, more than $3,000; so did a couple of TV stories I caught, but didn’t mention why.

The reason it’s so expensive is because Myriad Genetics owns the patent to the gene, effectively preventing researchers from coming up with other, possibly less expensive alternatives. The case is before the U.S. Supreme Court right now, and I’ve read that the Supreme Court is skeptical of Myriad’s argument. I hope their skepticism translates to a ruling against Myriad.