If you’ve not read it yet, click here for Angelina Jolie’s op-ed in The New York Times called “My Medical Choice” about her decision to undergo a preventative double mastectomy after discovering, following her mother's death at 56, that she’s carrying a gene that puts her at an 87% risk of developing breast cancer and 50% risk of ovarian cancer. Jolie’s risk of developing breast cancer has now been reduced to under 5%.
All told, the process took months, first with surgery to attempt to save the nipple, then another procedure to remove the breast tissue, and culminating with breast reconstruction on April 27. Remember, during this time, she travelled to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda on a humanitarian mission with the UN. Click here to see photos. And she spoke at the G8 summit in London at the announcement of a joint initiative to end war zone rape and sexual violence. Click here for a refresher. Still a badass.
Jolie also notes in her piece that she will continue to write about her therapy on the website of the Pink Lotus Breast Centre to encourage women to get tested and investigate their options. It is a noble ambition.
In many provinces in Canada, testing for the “faulty” gene referenced in Jolie’s article is covered under universal health care if the patient has family history. Ontario also expanded its breast screening program to include those of Ashkenazi Jewish heritage. My friend Amy Moore-Benson went through this a few years ago and wrote about it beautifully in The Globe & Mail last year -- click here to read -- after her grandmother died of breast cancer and she, her sister, and her father were diagnosed with breast cancer. In Amy’s case, researchers were not able to detect the presence of a known faulty gene and are still investigating the possibly there may be one they’ve not yet identified.
Jacek’s mother, my mother-in-law, is a breast cancer survivor going on 13 years. Her treatment was entirely covered by universal health care. We are fortunate. Otherwise we would not have been able to access the resources and pay for the cost of saving her life. Many people don’t have this right. And Jolie makes the point towards the end of her article:
“It has got to be a priority to ensure that more women can access gene testing and lifesaving preventive treatment, whatever their means and background, wherever they live. The cost of testing for BRCA1 and BRCA2, at more than $3,000 in the United States, remains an obstacle for many women.”
But as many health care professionals are gently stressing today, in addition to acknowledging Jolie's courage, it's important not to freak out and go in for testing out of panic and to consult your physician first about understanding your predispositions and family history.
Jolie reveals that Brad Pitt was at her side through her surgeries. Pitt himself has released a statement to the Evening Standard:
“Having witnessed this decision firsthand, I find Angie’s choice, as well as so many others like her, absolutely heroic. I thank our medical team for their care and focus. All I want for is for her to have a long and healthy life, with myself and our children. This is a happy day for our family.”
But these two are stealth, non?
For THREE MONTHS, and probably more, they kept this LOCKED DOWN, totally controlling and owning the release and interpretation of this announcement. It’s not just when she chose to announce it, but the way she’s done it as well. Because if it had leaked, there would have been panic and drama and crazy rumouring. How she’s handled it here is about information and empowerment, and no one else gets to drive the narrative. It’s incredibly smart but also extremely savvy. The Brange, two of the most famous and hunted individuals in the business, and together exponentially more so, and still, they can keep their sh-t tight. The tightest. Not ONE leak. NOTHING.
Also worth mentioning -- this story was posted on the NYT website last night at around midnight. Monday night is the usual cut-off point for the weekly magazines. If they wanted to, they could have given the supermarket publications a full day or more to make their changes. That’s how they did it when they confirmed their engagement. It was April 13, 2012, a Friday. This time they decided not to coordinate the coverage of her news with the weeklies, choosing instead to exclusively make a statement in a Newspaper of Record. It's another example of what a sophisticated media strategist she is. Which is partly how she's become such a powerful symbol -- perhaps the most powerful symbol -- for issues not related to Hollywood at all.