Angelina, Celebrity & Cancer

Sleeping This morning my inbox was jammed with emails linking me to Angelina’s Jolie’s Op-Ed piece on “My Medical Choice,” so before my Trader Joe’s blueberry waffle made it into the toaster I learned with millions of others about her decision to have a preventive double mastectomy.  I thought – awesome, she’s talking about the “C” word – taking a little bit more of the stigma away.  It’s still a word that I have trouble using casually – seriously, try throwing that into a conversation.  It rarely goes well and usually ends up with me saying, “but I’m fine, I’ll be fine… blah blah just fine, it wasn’t so bad,” just to get that “uh oh” panic look off their face.  So honestly, thank you Angelina for that – for raising awareness, for telling your story, for telling us about the emotional  impact of the death of your mother from cancer.  Thank you for talking about the BRCA1 gene (and how it costs over $3000 – not covered by most insurance) and a little bit about the medical process…

But sister, my breast friend (or breastless friend) I had to put waffle number two into the toaster so it’s syrup covered semi healthy deliciousness could help me cope with the feeling of wanting to COMPLETELY FREAK OUT.  Is it me or did she make it sound like she popped over to Beverly Hills for a little nip, a little tuck and skinny soy latte on the way home?  She went to Pink Lotus, the amazing place I went to for my cancer, (“but I’m fine, I’ll be fine… blah blah just fine, not so bad.”)  It is an incredible place in the center of Beverly Hills with valet parking and fresh flowers, state of the art technology, and wonderful world class professionals dressed in matching pink scrubs with embroidered pink lotus’s and clogs.  I know how truly lucky I am to be cared for by the staff there, led by the (can I use the word amazing again?) Dr. Kristi Funk – who I credit with giving me the ability to face my decisions with a glass half full attitude (truly, how can she be so beautiful, funny and smart?!)

BUT – here is why I am seriously considering waffle number three – maybe 1% of 1% (go ahead and fact check me) of women have the means, the ability financially or geographically to have an experience anywhere near this one.   It is a difficult, devastating and drastic medical choice and they will not have Kristi to have hope in her eyes while telling them the facts, the flowers will be dusty and artificial and the staff will be over burdened and preoccupied and they will face stacks of medical bills that cannot be stopped.  Brad will not hold their hand, they will go through radiation, they will lose their hair, they will discover that having your breasts cut off and replaced with bags of silicone is rarely with out medical complications, ask my friend who had a leak in lefty, or another friend who is livid that at the age of 60 she has two high perky softball boobies (it’s true – she pulled up her shirt “Girls Gone Wild” style and showed me) or me – who spent an entire December trying to save a nipple.  (I call it the Blue Nipple Christmas – too soon?)  And never without emotional consequences, imagine – never feeling the caress of a lover again,  or being able to nurse a child of your own, the piece of you that has been taken and replaced by something artificial.  Aliens in your bra.

Cancer is ugly, it’s hard, it’s depressing, it’s scary gross (she kinda glossed by that part about the surgical drains…really, – try going out to a restaurant with balls of your own juices in your pockets) – and it’s different for everyone,  Angelina Jolie’s experience is Angelina Jolie’s experience and I understand that and will defend her right to tell it – but I really want to stand on top of my sunny (it is LA) apartment building and yell – “this is the Hollywood version!”  It’s just not that easy, women need to know that going in, to talk with other women who have been through it and not think they can survive the experience based on a celebrity version, one that has been reduced to a page that make a bilateral mastectomy seem like the new black.  Okay, that sounded way mean, which is probably not the way to go if you believe as I do that everyone should tell the stories in their lives, that sharing these things makes us stronger individually and as a community, but poke me and I bleed dark humor.

5 Responses

  1. Courtney
    | Reply

    I didn’t know you had breast cancer; thank you for writing about it and sharing your experience. I’m familiar with the beautiful and brilliant Dr. Funk and her Center is fantastic. And I, too, wish all women could have the Pink Lotus/Angelina Jolie version of a double mastectomy. But there are good doctors and nurses everywhere, even if not in elegant offices in Beverly Hills. And I bet a lot of cancer victims, or women wanting to take preventative measures, are statistically likely to encounter at least one kind, smart, caring person during their journey. That’s my hope anyway.

  2. Courtney
    | Reply

    p.s. I’ve seen the drains. They are gnarly. Like, haunt-one’s-dreams bad.

  3. Lyn Cox
    | Reply

    Thanks. Thanks for telling your story with authenticity and humor, and thanks for this perspective.

  4. Courtney
    | Reply

    Just reread my comment and it’s one of the most random things I’ve ever written. I have no idea why I homed in on this one particular point. So strange. I think I was vaguely alluding to the idea that, even if most women will not have Angelina Jolie’s experience, maybe there will be positive things about their journey, mixed in with the hellish parts of it. And maybe Angelina Jolie’s experience wasn’t all great, despite the positivity of her article; maybe she was trying to put it in the best light possible, maybe not just to reassure women having to face this decision but to reassure herself that it wasn’t awful, and to frame it positively for her children.

  5. Mandi
    | Reply

    You hit the nail on the head on this one. It was a Hollywood version of a very drastic decision, but I do think she was trying to remain positive and all of the gory details may be less than the public could take (or want to hear).

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