Karen & Kurt 
Edgewood in St. Denis

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Smart Woman

An open letter to Angelina Jolie

Posted by karenandkurt on May 16, 2013 at 4:25 PM

Dear Ms. Jolie:

I don’t make a habit of commenting on another woman’s medical decisions. They are intensely personal, wrapped in emotion and often made while we are trying to weigh the information we’ve been given, the research we do, our best and worst impulses and the too-many opinions of friends and family who are all convinced they know what’s best for us. It’s hard to make a decision about our long-term health in the best of circumstances when all of this is swirling around us. It’s unfair when strangers feel they have the right to add their two cents and judge what we decide to do.

But, Ms. Jolie, you’ve put your medical decision out there to have your healthy breasts removed by mastectomy because you feared you might develop breast cancer. This has stirred so much talk, a little debate, a lot of crazy statements in the past few days. Oh, you’ve been called “brave” and “choosing life” and have yourself said you hope women will know “they have strong options.”

You also acknowledge “alternative” medicine, as you call it, and doctors who are working on alternatives to surgery. You leave out the “mainstream” research that includes those alternatives, most especially approaches to minimizing and preventing cancers through lifestyle choices and supports.

And reading your piece in the New York Times, I see that you even got to keep your nipples.

You’ve placed yourself in a position to be criticized by discussing your decision in an open forum, so here goes:

Firstly, I recognize your fear of becoming sick from cancer and dying young while you have small children. The loss of your own mother is very great for you. But what you did is not “brave” and you were allowed to keep your nipples when this is not the experience of the vast majority of women who have mastectomies. You speak of your children seeing “little scars” when most of us have large, dramatic ones.

Women’s body parts are not disposable. Doctors have been telling us that they are ever since they could start slicing into our bodies and have us live through it. To needlessly remove healthy tissue is foolish. And then to go around telling people that “the results can beautiful” and are “a strong option” is absurd. Long before you and I had to consider cancer, women fought with the medical establishment to make lumpectomy (also called breast conserving surgery) an option for us. Why do you think that is? You have fallen prey to fear and a medical establishment that sees us as disposable. I am sorry that you did, but I am angry that you think this is okay.

There are no “little scars.” My scar on the left runs from my breast bone to beneath my arm, for about eight inches. It runs up the center of the breast mound for another three inches.  The right side is slightly smaller, forming an upside-down “T”, with a circle of scarring around the nipple I was allowed to keep. And there are women with far worse scars than mine. Maybe, with your small original breasts, you have a little scar but don’t act like that’s normal. Don’t pretend that other women will have little scars.

Those are the physical ones. The emotional ones continue and continue. The scar continues every time I dress and every time I shower. It’s there when I apply the temporary tattoo decal so I can pretend I have a nipple. (I was going to email you the link to my nipple supplier until I read that you got to keep yours.)  Those scars are there when I am with my husband (who could out-do Brad Pitt any day of the week!) and they are there when I realize I don’t have the strength in my left arm that I did before surgery.

And the pain doesn’t go away after a few days. It hurts sometimes when I move and it aches at night when I go to sleep. The nipple I don’t have itches like crazy and I can’t scratch the mound because I have no feeling there.

And those implants that look so “beautiful?” I pray that mine will last a lifetime; my doctor said if I’m lucky I’ll get 20 years out of it.  You basically just signed up for more and more surgeries.

So, perhaps I should welcome you to this experience. You chose it. The rest of us didn’t. But in choosing this, you have also done damage to women. You are helping to normalize a dramatic medical change that says our body parts aren’t worth fighting for, that they are disposable. You are pushing us towards a slope that will be sold to us and the young women after us that our body parts are useless or dangerous and should just be removed in case something “might” happen. I am truly afraid that all the progress women have made in 100 years will be pushed back to a point where our 20-year-old girls will be told to have mastectomies because it’s just like getting healthy wisdom teeth pulled. Come on! We have formula for babies! Who needs boobies anyway?!

There are better options. The first truly is “watch and wait.” While doing this, change your lifestyle while you are healthy. Get more sunshine, optimize your Vitamin D levels, eat foods from the broccoli and onion families, investigate turmeric, exercise regularly, limit alcohol, and include mushrooms in your diet. Eliminate non-organic foods and sugars and personal care products teeming with BPA, carcinogens, and synthetic dyes and fragrances.

Biology isn’t destiny. My doctor told me my cancer was caused by my environment and I struggle every day to change that environment. Maybe it was easier for you to just boobie-lop rather than take control of the risks you can mitigate. Maybe your fear was so overwhelming that you surrendered to a knife.

I fought to keep my breasts and lost that fight. I am cancer-free but the battle has left me scarred. I intend to stay cancer-free and fight every day to be healthy in a terribly unhealthy environment.  The women who are fighting to recover, to survive or to heal when faced with death are truly brave. They show grace when faced with taller odds then you ever had. Each of them has fought to remain whole, in whatever manner wholeness has been offered to them.

If you care about other women, you will donate some of that fortune to cancer research to prevent, treat and help women (and men) recover. Don’t give to Komen or anyone running around with a pink ribbon. Give to real researchers in hospitals and universities.

Here are some suggestions:


Finally, Ms. Jolie, I wish you well in your choices. But I ask that you not act like they are the right choices for all women.  And I ask that you include a message that our bodies are not commodities, they are not disposable and that they are to be valued and cherished and careful for. We have a responsibility to fight for our bodies, not to surrender to fear or ease.

One woman chose an elaborate tattoo to hide the scars from her double mastectomy.

Categories: Health

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