Friday, May 17, 2013

Anjelina Jolie's Double Masectomy - It's time to make Breast Cancer a Health Priority

On Tuesday, I read the New York Times article titled "My Medical Choice" where Angelina Jolie opened up about her bosom removal surgery to empower other women at risk of having cancer to make a strong choice. The mother of six says she went under the knife to have a double mastectomy after finding out that she has a mutated BRCA1 gene which sharply increases a woman's risk of bosom and ovarian cancers. 

Angelina Jolie's shocking revelation left me speechless, just a month after the Deputy Governor of Ekiti state, Her Excellency Funmi Olayinka had lost her battle with breast cancer, and shortly after a secondary school friend of mine lost her battle with breast cancer at the age of 25. 

Jolie's mother Marcheline Bertrand died in 2007 at 56 after fighting ovarian cancer for nearly a decade. Her six children sometimes ask her if the same could happen to her, and the 37-year-old actress wants to avoid the same fate as her mom. "I have always told them not to worry, but the truth is I carry a 'faulty' gene," she says. 

"My doctors estimated that I had an 87 percent risk of bosom cancer and a 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer, although the risk is different in the case of each woman," she adds. "Once I knew that this was my reality, I decided to be proactive and to minimize the risk as much I could. I made a decision to have a preventive double mastectomy." 

"I started with the bosoms, as my risk of bosom cancer is higher than my risk of ovarian cancer, and the surgery is more complex," so she explains. She quietly began a "Tip delay" on February 2 to save the part of the body before having surgery to remove her bosom tissue and undergoing reconstruction of the bosoms with an implant. 

Jolie finished the 3-month procedure on April 27 with her fiance Brad Pitt by her side. She's grateful to have such a "loving and supportive" partner. "So to anyone who has a wife or girlfriend going through this, know that you are a very important part of the transition," she says. 

"Brad was at the Pink Lotus bosom Center, where I was treated, for every minute of the surgeries. We managed to find moments to laugh together. We knew this was the right thing to do for our family and that it would bring us closer. And it has," she gushes. 

"The decision to have a mastectomy was not easy. But it is one I am very happy that I made. My chances of developing bosom cancer have dropped from 87 percent to under 5 percent," she says, adding that she now becomes more assured when answering question from her kids, "I can tell my children that they don't need to fear they will lose me to bosom cancer." 

"It is reassuring that they see nothing that makes them uncomfortable. They can see my small scars and that's it. Everything else is just Mommy, the same as she always was. And they know that I love them and will do anything to be with them as long as I can," she continues. 

"On a personal note, I do not feel any less of a woman. I feel empowered that I made a strong choice that in no way diminishes my femininity," she adds. 

She decided to go public with her story "because there are many women who do not know that they might be living under the shadow of cancer." She explains, "It is my hope that they, too, will be able to get gene tested, and that if they have a high risk they, too, will know that they have strong options."

Breast cancer is a hidden danger that we as women or anyone who has a female loved one should be aware of. Every woman must protect their breast from becoming cancerous. Stay at a healthy weight, boost your immunity and reduce your estrogen and insulin levels. Cut down on alcohol consumption as that can increase your estrogen levels, eat more vegetables like the greens the Yoruba’s call “efo shoko” which contains Sulforaphane, a chemical that stops cancer cells from multiplying.

Know your family history of the disease, one first degree relative in your family makes your risk increases two fold and two makes it increase 5 fold which will be my risk. However I always stress that nothing needs to run in your family if you are aware.

Finally all women need a clinical breast exam every three years and an annual mammogram starting at the age of 40. If you are from a high risk family, you need to start at 30-years-old. To do a self breast exam, it involves checking your breasts for lumps or changes while standing and lying in different positions and while looking at your breasts in a mirror to note any changes in their appearance.

Once you know what your breasts normally look and feel like, any new lump or change in appearance should be evaluated by a doctor.

Ijeoma Olujekun

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