I was taken aback this morning by an Op Ed authored by Angelina Jolie on her double mastectomy. She has a gene, BRCA1 which radically increases her chance of developing breast cancer, the disease that took her own mother.
I was pleased that she was able to go through the surgeries without the press poking and prodding at her, because after all it’s a very private thing, deciding to have that level of surgery. I was also unsurprised (but disheartened) to see so many people immediately piling on the complaint band wagon. Everything from cynicism about her privilege (which she acknowledged) to her looks was up for grabs like a feeding frenzy for the 24/7 social media set. Which I suppose I am a part of, since here I am writing a post.
Here’s the thing. If I could afford the tests to determine what parts of me would go wrong and then I could fix them? I’d spend the money and the time and the pain to fix them. For me, for my husband, for my kids. Watching someone die, like Jolie did, and seeing that future as a real possibility, leaves a deep mark.
My mother has some form of dementia. It could be Vascular, Lewy Body Disorder or Alzheimer’s. The only way to find out would be to do an expensive autopsy after she died and then it might tell me what is possibly in store for me as I age.
I’ve watched her diminish, rage, forget, and melt away into a human puddle. It’s damaged our family, frightened the kids, and I won’t begin to tell you what it’s done to me personally. I’d do pretty much anything to avoid that, both for me and especially for my children. Hell, if the docs came back and said, “We’ve discovered that it’s all about teeth and hair, get em pulled and shave your head and you’ll never get Alzheimer’s!” I’d be bald and wearing dentures right now.
I’m glad she had the resources to find out and to take care of herself. I hope she takes this path and helps other people do the same thing. I bet a foundation would do a damn lot of good, at least for lowered cost testing.
I think that sharing her story was really brave, especially because she as a woman (considered a beautiful one) has so much to lose by publicizing it.
But really, she has so much more to gain, and in the way that counts. And that matters.