Monday, August 26, 2013

Do Not Judge Us For Our Actions: A #BlogElul Post

Shortly after Angelina Jolie announced that she had undergone a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy because of the presence of a BRCA mutation, I wrote this opinion piece, which provides BRCA basics about the prevalence of the mutations, the risks of developing cancer, and signs that hereditary breast and ovarian cancer may be present in a family.

Among the many comments that were posted in response to the article were several that espoused this sentiment: 
I have no intention of even being tested, for reasons including many already mentioned above, despite knowing that at least one such mutation runs in my father's family, and having a strong family history of cancer, including both parents and three of four grandparents dying of one form of it or another (with my mother having also had breast cancer earlier on), and my mother's sister also a survivor of yet another form.
I think the idea of lopping off perfectly healthy body parts to "prevent" a problem that proper routine screening and attention to one's health should uncover early is insane, especially a potential problem that is in no way certain to develop without such surgery.

I won't have the testing because what else on earth could be done to try to avoid getting cancer that we're not already supposed to be doing, like eating right, generally taking care of our health, exercising, etc.? And why should I even open the door to the possibility of the kind of fatalism that can easily result from knowing that one has such a mutation? Especially knowing that such fatalism can lower one's immune system function - which in turn can open the door to a cancer that might not otherwise have developed.
I understand and respect that others might feel better knowing, and even taking such drastic, unproven steps, but I also find it appalling on many levels that anyone should be held up as a "hero" for making the choice to have this surgery.
 Just go live your lives, people. Take care of yourselves the way you know you should, get your regular mammograms, pap smears, prostate exams, etc. Know your body, and go see a doctor quickly if you notice a change; have regular exams. Heck, have *extra* exams, for that matter. But for heaven's sake, hold onto the body parts the good lord gave you until there's an actual *reason* (as in actual illness, or real proof that doing otherwise will actually matter) to part with them.
Although I could have responded otherwise or not at all, I chose to answer with this:
As I noted in my piece, women have many options with regard to dealing with BRCA mutations. Having watched such a mutation--that she didn't even know she had--kill my mother in seven weeks time, I saw reason enough to take action once I knew I carried the same genetic defect. I do not consider myself, Angelina Jolie or anyone else a hero for choosing prophylactic surgery. As you suggest, we are just trying to live our lives. Please do not judge us for our actions.
Inspired by Ima on (and off) the Bima,this post is one in a series marking the days of the Hebrew month of Elul, which precedes the Jewish High Holidays and traditionally serves as a time of reflection and spiritual preparation for the new year.