Despite medical advances, cancer is a disease that too often inflicts a sense of powerlessness on those who are threatened by it. However, as the Oscar-winning actress and director Angelina Jolie has just reminded us, women who have a genetic predisposition to develop breast cancer need not be paralyzed by fear or a sense of helplessness.
As the carrier of an uncommon “faulty” gene, BRCA1, which her doctors estimated gives her an 87 percent chance of developing breast cancer; Jolie chose to have a preventive double mastectomy and reconstruction.
In an eloquent essay in the New York Times to raise awareness and promote gene testing, she says the decision, though hard, was the right one for her and her six children, dramatically cutting her risk. Happily, most women do not face so daunting a choice. Relatively few have the gene. Other less radical treatment options include intensive screening and preventive medications. For most, the best prevention is awareness, a healthy lifestyle and good medical care.
Still, Jolie’s celebrity status, her decision and her openness about it make a powerful statement that women have choices, that they should take control of their health, and that family and health trump vanity. “I do not feel any less of a woman,” she writes. “I can tell my children that they don’t need to fear that they will lose me to breast cancer.”