For anyone who missed Angelina Jolie’s May 14, 2013, NY Times Op-Ed My Medical Choice, she announced her prophylactic (preventative) mastectomies. Now that people have stopped talking about it, I have an answer to the questions I’d dodged about her letter. Oh, to be as quick with a quip as say, Oscar Wilde. Nope, I needed weeks for a comeback line. And here it is: all breast cancers, like all breasts and all risks, are not the same. So the choices are different.
Pretty lame huh? Yeah, pathetic that in two months I couldn’t come up with anything wittier. Except, it’s my truth. Here’s a few ways her experience and mine are different, and then an answer to the big so what?
Angelina had a risk of breast cancer. This was not like facing Triple Negative Breast Cancer. Angelina has small scars, nothing that would make her children “uncomfortable”. That’s different than scars from armpit to sternum on both sides of my chest. Angelina feels she had “a strong choice that in no way diminishes [her] femininity.” I took less than two seconds to choose not being dead over being feminine. Angelina had reconstructive surgery for new breasts that are “beautiful.” I choose to live with a chest as flat as the prairie whose photograph I picked for this blog. Angelina traded her perfect breasts in for other perfect breasts. I donated my perfect breasts to the tumor bank for research without regret or request for visiting privileges.
That’s the ‘what’. And the ‘so what’ is: We have in common we’re both women who weren’t born with breasts, won’t die with our own breasts and didn’t want to die because of our breasts.
Angelina wrote: “Everything else is just Mommy, the same as I always was.”
What else could we be but ourselves, whatever gets amputated, mutilated, rearranged or droopy? But, really, she’s the same as always? We come through trials transformed, like characters in a good novel (or even in the novel I’ve written).
But I understand, I think, what Angelina might have meant. To those who love us and who we love, we’re still here, still strong, still attentive to them. We’ll shove aside our fears and doubts and nightmares and the quivering parts of our guts that worry we’re not out of danger yet, to answer “Here I am” when our loved ones cry out their fears and doubts.
Finally, here’s the ‘what next’. I’ll hug Decker, and Beth, and Marcus, and Andria, and friends and family, and even Trail the Westie Terrier to my flat chest and assume it’s just as comforting and comfortable as Angelina’s perfect implants. Because our loved ones will hear our hearts beat for them, breasts or no breasts.