By Athena Skapinakis
When doctors told Angelina Jolie that she had an 87 percent chance of breast cancer because she carried the BRCA1 gene mutation, the 37-year-old celebrity decided to have a double mastectomy, the surgical removal of both her breasts. The procedure lowered her risk rate to a mere 5 percent. Jolie still plans on having her ovaries removed as well because, like breast cancer, ovarian cancer has also plagued the women in her family.
Jolie’s mother, Marcheline Bertrand, died at 56 after a nearly decade-long battle with ovarian cancer in 2007. Her aunt, Debbie Martin, died just two weeks after Jolie’s procedure. The two were reportedly very close and Jolie often made visits with her aunt to show her support and love.
While many have been quick to criticize Jolie’s medical choice because of her mass wealth and ability to afford reconstructive procedures, I still applaud her and her bravery. For any woman (wealthy or not), making the choice to remove her breasts is daunting and could even be crippling to her sense of self-worth. Breasts have always been a symbol of womanliness and nurture. Without them, a woman questions her sense of attractiveness and femininity.
However, Jolie has said after her surgery: “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.”
Jolie wrote candidly about her journey through the medical procedure, choosing not to keep her story private so that she may inspire other women who “might be living under the shadow of cancer” to come out from hiding and feel empowered.
Beginning the process early February, Jolie faced the major surgery two weeks later, which lasted eight hours. The mother-of-six said: “Life comes with many challenges. The ones that should not scare us are the ones we can take on and take control of.”
Critics have claimed that Jolie is urging everyone to hack off their breasts as preventative measures and the she is instead intimidating woman with the notion that every one of them will be at a dire risk of breast cancer. I have to disagree.
I don’t feel that Jolie is attempting to convince every woman on the planet to live in fear if she decides against breast removal. She is spreading awareness to those who have a high percentage rate of breast cancer.
Jolie has made it socially acceptable for a woman to remove her breasts and maintain her femininity and strength. She isn’t telling me to go forth and get rid of my boobs. However, heaven forbid I ever am told by doctors that I am at a high risk for breast cancer, Jolie has encouraged me-and countless other women-that I am still a woman even if I decide to undergo a mastectomy. The procedure wouldn’t define me, make me androgynous or anyone question my femininity. Like the heroic Jolie, a masectomy would make me more of a woman because I would be brave enough to go through with it.