The Angelina Effect
For breast cancer awareness month, we recall May 14, 2013, the day the news broke that the world’s most beautiful woman, international humanitarian and Hollywood leading lady, Angelina Jolie, had quietly undergone a double-mastectomy. In a New York Times op-ed piece, the mother of six delivered the shocking news, in her own words.
She spoke candidly about discovering that she was at extremely high risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer because of a mutated gene known as the BRCA1. Her mother Marcheline Bertrand had died of ovarian cancer at age 57, and that gave her pause. With an 87% chance of developing breast cancer she made, what had to be, one of the most painful decisions, and one that millions of women around the world face each year.
The fact that this iconic beauty chose to share her story, unafraid of judgment, was significant. More significant was the idea that for many women, she removed the stigma affiliated with mastectomy. She defied the idea that she was any less a woman and that this action meant the loss of her femininity. Time Magazine would later dub this – the Angelina Effect.
Jolie’s story has done much to reshape the conversation and has helped place the spotlight on the most important aspects of this issue:
- The lack of access that so many women face, to the kind of health care options that she is privileged to, simply based on finance.
- The importance of the developing science of genetic diagnosis and DNA profiling.
- The faulty stigma affiliated with this type of radical, yet life-saving surgery.
In making this decision, Angelina put her family front and center. Wanting to be around to see her children grow up, and wanting them to have her in their lives for as long as possible, made everything else unimportant. She reignited a conversation that is worth having whether you agree with what she did or not. And the debate has not lost any of its thunder, one year after the news broke.
At the time of the op-ed, NPR’s Linda Holmes wrote that Angelina’s ability to still feel just as beautiful after the procedure as she did before, might just be what helps another woman going through this,
It will be powerful to someone whether it should be or not. Someone will think about having a mastectomy and remember that Angelina Jolie had one, and she wasn’t embarrassed, and she still felt pretty, and she told everyone that it can be survived.
When celebrities use their name and recognition to focus attention on important health issues and mobilize individuals, governments and the health community, it can be the most powerful tool and use of their positions in culture.
A reminder to all women, whether you have children or not – do something valuable for yourself:
- Remember to care for yourself, as much as being a care-giver.
- Set aside time for regular and routine check-ups.
- Make sure you know your family’s health history (what you might be prone to).
- Get screened for breast and ovarian cancer as well as for heart disease (early detection is your best protection).
Don’t let others define who you are as a woman – a lesson well worth learning from one of the most beautiful women in the world.
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References: New York Times, Time Magazine, The Huffington Post, The Independent, NPR, National Cancer Institute
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