I've been traveling and have had little time to post about—or even process—Angelina Jolie's opinion piece, “My Medical Choice,” in the NY Times.
I am not sure I have anything to add to the discussion, but I have had so many people ask me about it that I felt I should respond. I am doing so in a highly equivocal way, as I have mixed emotions on the piece. (The more I learn about breast cancer and its treatment, the fuzzier my opinions. Things used to be clearer when I knew less.)
I do think Jolie does an exceptional job explaining her specific case, providing great details for those who are unsure what might be ahead of them. She certainly makes it real and true—and doesn't glamorize it. This is a hard decision and the treatment is hard on your body. She makes that clear—and good for her for taking the risk of going public with a decision that some might trivialize, with insensitive and uninformed comments.
I do worry, though, about how we approach celebrity information. Too often we want to do what they do, be who they are. It concerns me, then, that women who do not have the risk factors Jolie faced—she had an 87 percent risk of breast cancer—might also think they need a double mastectomy. This could be much more aggressive treatment than makes sense for them—more aggressive than might be good for them. In fact, there has been an increase in the number of double mastectomies in recent years, sometimes in cases of DCIS.
I hope we keep the risks—of cancer as well as of the effects of it treatment— in perspective. It is a fine line—I want us to be informed, proactive, and in control. But I do not want us unnecessarily fearful. I think Jolie helps us with the former but also puts us at risk of the latter.
As I said, the more I learn, the less I truly understand.
• Read more about TNBC in my book, Surviving Triple-Negative Breast Cancer.