POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 16 May 2013, Thursday
Angelina Jolie Has No Breasts
She had them removed.
One of the world’s most talented actresses, whose angled cheekbones and striking looks make her face recognizable the world over, revealed in a May 14 New York Times editorial that she opted for a preventive double mastectomy to reduce her risk of breast cancer.
In her piece “My Medical Choice,” Jolie says her mother “fought cancer for almost a decade and died at 56.” Actress and producer Marcheline Bertrand succumbed to ovarian cancer in 2007. Jolie carries a “faulty” gene, BRCA1, which sharply increases her risk of developing both diseases.
She adds, “My doctors estimated that I had an 87 percent risk of breast cancer and a 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer.” To make sure she’d be around as long as she could for her children, she “decided to be proactive and minimize the risk as much as I could,” through her option to have the surgery, having both breasts removed first as she had a higher chance of developing breast cancer than ovarian cancer.
After the procedure, her doctors say that her risk is now under five percent.
Jolie says she was able to keep her medical journey under the public radar. “But I am writing about it now,” she says, “because I hope that other women can benefit from my experience.”
Jolie obtained the best advice and information that science and medicine could give her, weighed the various options available, made a rational and logical decision, and took action.
Not only did she take charge of her own health, with courage, like the strong and intrepid characters she portrays onscreen, but she is also helping other women become aware of these diseases, their risks, and that something can be done about it.
Now that is using one’s celebrity status for the good of others, to make a positive difference in the world and in other’s lives, and to empower others to help themselves.
On the home front, local celebrities are also making their stands against the breast cancer scourge. Director and writer Bibeth Orteza, a breast cancer survivor, is spokesperson of ICanServe Foundation (www.icanservefoundation.org). Lea Salonga narrates the foundation’s breast self-examination video in English, Dawn Zulueta in Tagalog, and Raki Vega in Cebuano.
ICanServe’s website says that for breast cancer incidence, the Philippines ranks ninth in the world and first in Southeast Asia. The organization “promotes early breast cancer detection through high-impact information campaigns and community-based screening programs.”
It is important to get this information out there: to let people know that breast cancer sneaks up on the unwary, that early detection bestows a higher chance of survival, that there are options to reduce one’s risk.
In 2008, an employees’ checkup was held our office. I didn’t want to attend; I was too lazy. My boss insisted I go. A doctor, doing a routine breast examination, found a suspicious lump. I was told to have mammographies and ultrasound scans.
I was not aware of any relatives with breast cancer, so at this point I was scared. Forced to confront the possibility of illness and perhaps death, I was motivated to seek all the medical help I could. Gynecologist Lilibeth Genuino did tests and oncologist Jennifer Ang removed the lump, which thankfully turned out to be benign.
The lumpectomy was performed on an outpatient basis. Right after the surgery at the Makati Medical Center, I walked to the office, just a few blocks away. I told my officemates my story.
The following year, one of them felt a hard knob in her breast; she remembered my experience, and got medical help. She was diagnosed with breast cancer. But because it was detected early, she obtained the necessary treatment and is now in remission.
The right information and the right action at the right time can save lives.
Jolie ends her NY Times piece with good advice, that anyone can use anywhere: “Life comes with many challenges. The ones that should not scare us are the ones we can take on and take control of.”
She may have no breasts now, but she has something more important – a potentially longer life and a fearless outlook with which to face and live it – and this we can also claim for ourselves. ***