Three of my friends are cancer survivors. I write this with the utmost love and respect for them and for their decisions and I wouldn’t hurt their feelings or insult them for the world. I might do it for 600 million bucks (remind me to buy a powerball ticket), but I wouldn’t do it lightly.
I am vain. I have always been vain. It isn’t that I think I am super-model gorgeous – I don’t, and I am not. But I like my face. I like my smile. I like my brain. So read the rest of this post with my vanity right up in the front part of your mind.
After hearing about, and then reading about, Angelina Jolie’s elective double mastecotmy, I thought about those choices for a long time. There is not a history of breast cancer in my family, as far as I know. There is history of lots of other types of cancer, but not breast or ovarian cancer. There is no reason for me to have genetic testing to find out if I have a mutation of the BRCA genes (although if I fell into a category, it would likely be BRCA2)
But I kept thinking about it. I have no opinion on Jolie’s decision. She says she had an 87% chance to get breast cancer and I can’t dispute that. What I can say with certainty is that I would not have made the same decision. Lots of factors go into that: I am older, I don’t have children, and I don’t have the means to have reconstructive surgery that my insurance wouldn’t pay for (and that is an entirely different argument that doesn’t belong in this discussion). The main reason, though, is that preventive measures don’t, as a general rule, make me feel safer. I fall into the “Well, there is a 13% chance that I won’t get breast cancer” camp. And 13% is a big enough chance for me not to have elective surgery that would (for me) result in even more self-esteem, confidence, and depression issues.
If I found out I did have breast cancer, not just the mutated gene that increases my chances of getting it, I am reasonably certain I still would not have that surgery.
A few years ago, I met someone online and we were getting to know each other when she told me she had had a double mastectomy. Um. Okay. She basically beat me over the head with it and demanded that I be okay with it. I didn’t know how I felt. I didn’t know her at all, we hadn’t even met in person yet. She insisted that I be fine with it while it was clear that she wasn’t fine with it herself. I say that with no judgment because it is an intensely personal issue and one I hadn’t encountered in a dating situation.
But the main reason I wouldn’t do it is just how I feel about cancer. I think it is sneaky. I think it never really goes away. I think the treatment is poison and probably causes more problems than it solves. I think that pharmaceutical companies make a killing (pun intended) on the drugs and I think that cancer research as a whole is a scam. We cured AIDS, for God’s sake! We can cure cancer, but we don’t because cancer is big business. I think that it is not worth it to go through hell only to buy a few more years.
It is an intensely personal decision. And even though I know what my answer is, it is a decision I hope I never have to make.