Angelina Jolie sharing her mastectomy publicly

Angelina Jolie, upon learning she had a rare genetic marker that indicates especially high risk for breast and ovarian cancer (the latter of which took her mother’s life at age 56), decided to have a preventative double mastectomy to reduce her risk of breast cancer from 89% to less than 5%. Then she decided to let the world know, and the criticism began. While it’s okay for people to debate things like who should or shouldn’t get this type of surgery, the criticism I’m talking about went something like this:

She’s just looking for attention. Really? For someone wanting attention, she goes to a lot of trouble to elude the press. By simply not expending that effort, she could have enough attention to potentially overwhelm the most attention-needy among us.

The concern trolls. These people are deeply worried that the doctor scared her into this unnecessary surgery, and now she’ll scare other women into it. The implication being that women are irrational creatures, easily manipulated, and once manipulated they like to convince everyone else to join them. Somehow… I dunno, I mean, a lot of people of both genders can be “scared” into trying a fad diet, for example, but getting a body part removed? Even the most dedicated trend followers are going to think twice about that one.

She’s ugly anyway, so it’s fine with me that she did this. Translation: “I am entitled to her body as public property, but since I didn’t want it anyway, it’s okay that she changed her appearance. Had I cared about her appearance, my entitlement might well have driven me to follow her around and harass her about how she could dare do this thing TO ME! Because that’s who it’s all about, ME ME ME!”

Just eat more broccoli and teh cancer can’t get you: “Living a healthy lifestyle is a far better way to reduce risk then maming yourself with no guarantees.” I don’t believe this idea is born of ignorance or confusion. I think it comes from the same place as, “If you dress conservatively, you can’t be raped.” It’s denial, plain and simple, born of a deep psychological inability to cope with the random unfairness of life.

This is one of my favorites, a comment from the NYT piece:

“I do not think there is a direct link between gene fault and cancer, rather an indirect one. We have genes that can go awry from exposure to man-made toxins, and then cancer develops.”

Hmm, that almost sounds plausible. Maybe this person is in medical research?

So a better strategy would be to go the alternative way (it is rather ridicolus that the natural way is now called the alternative way) and avoid those toxins: eat organic food, breath fresh air without exhaust and other pollutants, drink clean water, live in a wooden healthy home without exposure to chemicals from furniture (impregnated with fire-retardants), get your sleep etc etc.

Wait, this isn’t sounding so medical anymore. If it was that simple, George Burns wouldn’t have lived to be over 100, and two guys I knew who were super fit health nuts would not have keeled over dead from massive heart attacks in their 40s or 50s due to genetic factors. Sometimes the genes just win, and you don’t even need to work in medicine to notice that.

… However, if there is such a thing as a direct link between gene and cancer, I still think one should live health, the way nature intended, without such surgery.

Aha – so even if you’re wrong and the gene means exactly what Jolie’s qualified physicians said it means, she still should just eat more broccoli and hope for the best rather than do something that is proven to reduce the risk to under 5%. Unlike your “healthy lifestyle.”

Those natural breasts are also part of you bodys defense system.

Huh? I can only assume s/he means the lymph nodes which are often removed in breast cancer procedures because they’re so often where the cancer is.

It makes me wonder that no other comments that I have read share my point of view.

It should make you wonder. Specifically, whether you’re making the slightest bit of sense, or are in fact totally uninformed, married to unfounded assumptions, and not at all concerned about how many people might suffer if they read your comment and mistakenly think you know a breast from a lymph node.

I am a computer programmer

Oh, FFS, then shut up! I’m a blogger, and you don’t see me saying I know what’s best in medicine! Get over yourself!

Once again, we see that a woman cannot dictate her own body choices without the concern trolls and beauty police and general narcissists crawling out of the woodwork to get themselves some attention.

Newsflash: women are not stupid. We can read and stuff. And even the more daft among us can’t simply go to doctors and order a double mastectomy through the drive-in window. No; doctors actually, like, go over various options with us and stuff. By sharing her story, Jolie has informed the general public:

  • There’s this whole other way certain breast cancer risks can be detected, and if your family tree indicates it, this testing might be appropriate for you. Also, if you know someone in this situation and they are talking about this option, this is not a “crazy” idea you should be trying to talk her out of. It’s a viable option based on real medical data, and it deserves a doctor’s opinion on whether her case merits it, not yours.
  • That any mastectomy, whether preventative or after the fact, does not reduce your womanhood, and can now be done in such a way as to barely change your appearance (“small scars”). And that even if it does change your appearance, survival is far more important.
  • That it’s okay to put your health and health anxieties ahead of anyone’s perception about your body and their entitlement to it.
  • How romantic partners (and, for that matter, friends and relatives) should respond – with support and reassurance that they are more concerned about keeping you alive than about any change in your appearance.
  • How expensive the testing is. She doesn’t directly mention that insurance doesn’t always cover it (nor that quite a lot of Americans have jobs that don’t provide insurance, and independently purchased insurance can be more expensive than your housing payment). But based on what she’s shared, maybe more women with cancer in their families will inquire about this and complain if their insurance refuses to pay for it. Do insurance companies prefer paying for chemo, radiation and/or mastectomies later? That’s not cool.

I personally see no reason to doubt Jolie’s motives, but then I don’t get my kicks by sitting around passing judgment on people. I think she’s simply provided something for people to think about. Unlike her critics, she’s provided real medical data and sources to explain her decision – and when you do that, something really neat happens: you enable people to look at your case and think, “Cool, but this clearly doesn’t apply to me” as well as “Oh, I think I need this!”

In sharing this, Jolie is just empowering people with information about a rare condition. The only reason it’s so controversial is that it has to do with her secondary sex organs. People need to get over this; it’s embarrassing.


  1. Nuri says

    As much as I dislike Angelina Jolie (for no valid reason, since I don’t know her), I am impressed with her decision, and I think she made the right choice. When I hear the controversy her “confession” has caused, I cannot help but think it wouln’t be nearly as high if she had simply had a boobjob. That is also telling about the society we live in, isn’t it? Boobjob to get an E cup, no one bats a lash; boobjob that removes cancerous time-bomb tissue, and you are an attention whore. WTF.
    And the troll that said that “one should live health, the way nature intended, without such surgery.”… WTF? So I guess he’s also against diabetics getting their insuline shots, right? The way nature intended…

  2. Cheryl says

    Whoever thinks she’s doing this to get attention has no idea what they’re talking about. If that’s what she was after, why’d she make the effort to keep the testing, mastectomy, and reconstructive surgery under wraps? It’s her body and her choice. I think it’s a brave choice she made, considering the industry she’s in, and I applaud her for being strong and bold enough to have the procedure done and go public about it. Kudos to Brad Pitt for backing her 100% and showing the world how a man stands by the woman in his life.

  3. Cloudtigress says

    Just out of idle curiosity, has anyone come up with some variation of an “Jolie is a another victim of the Cancer-Industrial Complex (TM) that is sucking the money from innocent sick people” argument yet? A few years ago I was reading an on-line piece on breast cancer (something in relation to the Susan B. Komen fund, before the Planned Parenthood scandal hit) and someone in the comments was actually making the argument that scientists could have cured cancer years ago if weren’t for the Cancer-Industrial Complex (TM) deciding it could make far far FAR more money peddling chemo/radiation treatments to captive patients than it would actually curing the diesease once and for all, since a cure-all would mean no-one would ever get sick with cancer ever again, and the money tap would dry up, and how would those poor scientists ever be able to afford the payments on their five mansions and thiry Rolls-Royces then?

    Yes, someone really was making an argument like that. No, I have no idea what they’re really thinking talking like that, beyond noting that 1. they have no idea how science and diseases really work (a cure-all for a disease isn’t the same as eradicating a disease), and 2. the poster evidently believes there are hundreds more monolithic [XXXX]-Industrial Complexes running around than there’s room on the planet to contain them all.

  4. says

    Nuri, that’s a good comparison, and I think you’re right.

    Cheryl, right? What sort of mind looks at Angelina Jolie and thinks, “She must want more attention”? Huh?

    Cloudtigress, I haven’t seen it in this context, but I have known people in medicine who believe a more plausible version of it. They don’t claim there’s already a cure being kept under wraps; they believe that research is being directed toward treatments rather than cures, and that a lot of greedy people would lose their cash cow if an affordable treatment for preventing or curing cancer came along. Here’s how I break it down:

    –Greedy people in medical research? Absolutely.
    –Directing research toward treatment rather than a cure? If it’s happening, is it because the directors see a bigger monetary ROI or a bigger “survival rate” ROI? After all, a cure helps no one until it’s found, but improved treatment can lead to better survival rates. Besides, the HPV vaccine stands a chance of decimating one type of cancer, and its biggest threat to wide dispersal has been the Prude Brigade, not cancer charities.
    –Is there really no money in “curing” cancer? I doubt that. Maybe the cancer charities really would prefer not to see a cure, but are they the entirety of this alleged “industrial complex?” What about the research hospitals that are as caught up in fame and achieving legendary status as money? There are plenty of incentives for someone to find cures, and I can’t believe the cancer charities could stop all their research.

  5. SunlessNick says

    Jennifer Kesler,

    Is there really no money in โ€œcuringโ€ cancer? … What about the research hospitals that are as caught up in fame and achieving legendary status as money?

    Not to mention that legendary status would almost certainly translate into ever more research grants.

  6. Cheryl says


    A number of years ago, a gullible idiot in my church Bible study decided to send around an email forward about how ground up apricot and apple seeds and vitamin B13 (or a Bsomething that doesn’t actually exist) could cure cancer but doctors and Big Pharma were suppressing it so they could sell drugs and suck money from the poor, ignorant public. I immediately wrote back to him that whatever was in that email was pure BS because apricot/apple seeds contain cyanide and you’ll kill yourself if you ingest the ground up seeds long enough, not cure your cancer. I also did some research into the rest of what was in the email, and came across a great page that debunked everything with common sense and solid science. I’ve forgotten the specifics of most of what I read there, but this stuck with me: if it worked, why would doctors and Big Pharma suppress it? Why would doctors not embrace something that would save lives, and why wouldn’t Big Pharma be all over something they could exploit for massive profits? If they’ll patent a gene, like hell they wouldn’t be all over a Miracle Cancer Cure.

  7. says

    SunlessNick, right! No telling where the rewards would end.

    Cheryl, there’s also decent money to be made by peddling snake oil in the form of “natural cures” like the person in your church fell for. Now I take certain vitamins and herbs for certain things, but that’s after shoveling through an absolute mountain of bullshit claims to find out what they can REALLY do for you. Which is usually modest but worthwhile.

  8. says

    Cheryl, in her op-ed, she hints that she’ll be getting a hysterectomy later:

    I started with the breasts, as my risk of breast cancer is higher than my risk of ovarian cancer, and the surgery is more complex.

  9. Longtimelurkerfirsttimeposter says

    @ Cloudtigress

    So none of these people who spread these rumors have considered that the reason we don’t have a cure for cancer is that cancer is hard to cure?

    Part of the problem is that “cancer” isn’t the name of just one disease, it’s a kind of blanket term for a group of diseases with a great variety of causes and a great variety of cures. You found a fast, safe and effective treatment for one kind of pancreatic cancer? Good job, now get back to work, there are more cancers to cure!

    My link-fu may be very weak, but Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal has a great strip about this…

  10. Cheryl says

    Jennifer Kesler,

    Thanks. I was talking with my parents the other night about what she was going to do to lower her risk of ovarian cancer and said that I knew removing her ovaries and uterus was a far more complex issue than removing her breasts, and had to stop myself from laughing when my father, in his ignorance, said something to the effect of he didn’t understand why. Oh, gee, I don’t know, because they’re in your abdomen, so it’s automatically a more complex surgery with a greater risk of infection? Duh? There are also the hormone production/regulation issues, but I wouldn’t expect him to be aware of those.

  11. Cheryl says

    Jennifer Kesler,

    Contrary to what some rich white men in expensive suits might believe, no, you can’t. It’s just a wee bit more complicated than that. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    On the subject of ovariohysterectomies, I wonder if things will ever get to the point in this country where a woman’s childbearing potential and the number of children she’s already had will influence if she’s allowed to have the procedure and/or the hoops she’s forced to jump through in order to have the procedure (eg., banking eggs for IV fertilization in a surrogate later).

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