Every time I hear of a woman being diagnosed with breast cancer or testing positive for the BRCA gene, my heart sinks. I close my eyes and take in a deep breath and hold them in my heart, silently whispering the phrase Namaste (the light in me acknowledges the light in you). I feel all the way to the core of my soul what they are going through or what they are about to go through.
When I woke this morning, I along with the rest of the world heard of Angelina Jolie’s wonderfully easy and glamorous experience with a nipple sparing elective double mastectomy. According to her article in the New York Times, she was back to normal in a few days. Her children have only witnessed tiny scars on her perfectly reconstructed breasts and she wants everyone to know how easy the whole thing was for her. And of course every news anchor is congratulating her for being yet another celebrity who chose to share her courageous decision. Why don’t we ever hear about the dark side of mastectomy? Why don’t we hear that women have a part of their body amputated but the cancer comes anyway. About how surgery can actually increase the risk of the cancer mutating or breaking free and becoming more aggressive? About the emotional toll that this has on women and the suffering that can take place? Why is this information being presented like it is a casual procedure without significant long-term complications?
Can I share the harsh realities with you Angelina? A mastectomy is not the panacea that the surgeons suggest that it is. I tested negative for the BRCA gene, underwent a mastectomy after my second diagnosis with breast cancer and then the cancer returned for a 3rd time in an aggressive invasive form although they had removed my breast and nipple. I have had 16 surgeries on my right breast and my body rejected the implant twice. I am in constant pain, and have not been able to return to work. I cannot even relate to your sugar coated experience and through my blog I have talked to countless women who have had experiences closer to my own. I admire your courage to talk about your decision to significantly decrease your risk; I thought I was doing the same thing when I agreed to be carved up. But were you really being honest? Back to normal in a few days? I’m sad that more women aren’t being totally honest with each other about how difficult a mastectomy is, the risks involved, or the fact that it isn’t the insurance policy that we all hope it will be. I wouldn’t wish my experience on anyone; I wish I had someone who would have shared the other side of the story with me.