I read with interest the different media articles that appeared after actress Angelina Jolie revealed that she’d had a double mastectomy to prevent breast cancer. I applaud her brave decision and also think she has been very courageous by speaking publicly about such a personal and private matter.
Some of the reports I have read, however, have been a little misleading. The BRAC gene doesn’t increase your risk of breast or ovarian cancer – it is a mutated BRAC gene that is the culprit. Because my mother died of breast cancer aged 55, and I have a number of relatives who have also had breast cancer, I was referred to the genetics department to investigate if I have a mutated BRAC gene after my own diagnosis. I am very fortunate that I don’t have a mutated BRAC gene, so I feel much more comfortable now about retaining my natural breast. It has given me a great deal of peace of mind knowing this.
Of course, people should only worry about a possible mutation if there is a history of breast or ovarian cancer in your family. If you don’t know any family member who has been ill, then you certainly won’t have a mutation. Also, always remember that you get 50% of your genes from each side of your mother’s and father’s genes, so even if one side has the mutation, you still might not. To have the option of having this gene test you need to be referred by a medical specialist because you have family history. The doctors I met where very considered about referring me, with good reason.
My other breast has been reconstructed using the procedure that Angelina Jolie has chosen (although I wasn’t able to retain my nipple – it was too close to my tumour). And this is why I say that Angelina Jolie is being brave. My reconstructed breast looks really good, but it is not as good as my natural breast. It is much heavier and firmer and certainly it doesn’t feel natural. Eighteen months on from my surgery my new breast still feels quite uncomfortable at times. Simple things like lying on my right side for too long can cause pain – so how much more so with a double operation. And, of course, any surgery comes with risks. I think Angelina is being very courageous to put her health and family first when making this difficult decision. I wish her all the best and a long and cancer-free life.