Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Courage, Among Her Many Traits

"I had been planning this for some time. It is a less complex surgery than the mastectomy, but its effects are more severe. It puts a woman into forced menopause. So I was readying myself physically and emotionally, discussing options with doctors, researching alternative medicine, and mapping my hormones for estrogen or progesterone replacement. But I felt I still had months to make the date.
Then two weeks ago I got a call from my doctor with blood-test results. “Your CA-125 is normal,” he said. I breathed a sigh of relief. That test measures the amount of the protein CA-125 in the blood, and is used to monitor ovarian cancer. I have it every year because of my family history.
But that wasn’t all. He went on. “There are a number of inflammatory markers that are elevated, and taken together they could be a sign of early cancer.” I took a pause. “CA-125 has a 50 to 75 percent chance of missing ovarian cancer at early stages,” he said. He wanted me to see the surgeon immediately to check my ovaries."
Angeline Jolie, Diary of a Surgery, New York Times
Angelina Jolie Pitt -- Credit Luke MacGregor/Reuters
It doesn't take talent to be born beautiful. It does take talent to make a name for oneself through excelling in a profession, and Angelina Jolie was more or less born to the profession of acting. She has also distinguished herself as a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations. Through the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees she was appointed a special envoy to focus on the crises of mass population displacements; using her celebrity appeal for humanitarian work.

As a hugely admired celebrity and a role model she is contributing to the public weal on an international scale. The mindless admiration for actors that elevates many in Hollywood as flamboyant examples that people largely tend to adore and emulate usually relates to their physical appeal, their personalities, their charisma, as much as their professionalism in portraying characters in the film roles they undertake. Angelina Jolie became famous for her beauty and her voluptuous figure.

Both stood her in good stead as a box office attraction, gaining her fame and fortune. She has not consigned herself to that kind of vacuous figurehead, but has used her celebrity status to reach out to those whose backgrounds are that of poverty, deprivation, disease, displacement. And for that alone she is to be greatly admired. But she has gone further, using her own experience with a genetic inheritance that not only endowed her with beauty, intelligence and poise, but a potentially morbid propensity to a deadly disease.

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© UNHCR/K.McKinsey

Now 39, and having undergone genetic testing to determine what her chances are of facing various types of cancer in light of the unfortunate fact that women in her family line have died early deaths due to cancer, including her mother, she decided to sacrifice the very symbols of womanly physical attributes that gave her fame. She did that in favour of increasing the chances that her children would never have to face a future without their mother, as she was forced to do.
"There's this belief in our society that more information about our health is always better and that's not the case. Most people are not going to be in Angelina's situation."
"Is more information always more valuable, is screening always effective? The answer is no."
Timothy Caulfield, Canada research chair, health law and policy, University of Alberta

Angelina Jolie's well-publicized surgeries to remove the potential source of cancer infection after having been screened for genetic mutations, has motivated thousands of women to do the very same thing; be screened for the possibility of detecting genetic mutations that would place them in the high percentile of future cancers. Many medical researchers believe this kind of screening popularity represents a form of social hysteria, and criticize it is entirely unnecessary.

"While three of four Americans were aware of Angelina Jolie's double mastectomy, fewer than ten percent of respondents had the information necessary to accurately interpret Ms. Jolie's risk of developing cancer relative to a woman unaffected by the BRCA gene mutation", stated a British study in response to referrals for genetic services to identify hereditary breast cancer doubling in 2013.

But it is unmistakable that this woman is doing a public service by being up front and fearless in revealing her personal health history and the decisions she has chosen to make. In so doing, she has empowered herself by rejecting the symbols of femininity so beloved of men, as representing all that matters in being a woman, and in the process, empowered other women to confront the myth of that objectification.

Whatever surgeries have taken place, there she is, radiant and rational.

"Regardless of the hormone replacements I'm taking, I am now in menopause. I will not be able to have any more children, and I expect some physical changes. But I feel at ease with whatever will come, not because I am strong but because this is a part of life. It is nothing to be feared", she wrote.

The thoughts of a powerfully strong-willed and admirable woman whose priorities cannot be faulted.

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