By Kyra Senese and Elizabeth C.
IN ITS NEWEST ISSUE, TIME MAGAZINE heralds the news of Angelina Jolie’s double masectomy as a “medical earthquake.”
Actress Marlo Thomas proffered that the glamorous star asserted “power over her body” while announcing to the world that her breasts do not define her femininity.
Angelina’s brother James Haven declared Jolie’s decision to reveal her “medical choice” proof of her “compassion for humanity.”
Two days after Jolie revealed in the New York Times that she had undergone a double masectomy, reactions still pour in from celebrities, medical experts and cancer survivors. One of the world’s most adored actresses wrote that she made the decision to have the surgery after blood test confirmed she was genetically susceptible to cancer.
“The truth is I carry a ‘faulty’ gene, BRCA1, which sharply increases my risk of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer,” Jolie, 37, wrote. “Once I knew that this was my reality, I decided to be proactive and to minimize the risk as much I could. I made a decision to have a preventive double mastectomy.”
Maria Shriver trumpeted the star’s decision on Twitter: “Kudos to Angelina Jolie for using her voice yet again to inform and inspire.” Paris Hilton called the actress “so strong & brave,” while Real Housewife Kyle Richards tweeted, “I lost my Mom to Breast cancer & am embarrassed to admit that I’ve been too scared to get tested. I feel differently today #AngelinaJolie.”
Yet while Jolie’s admission has evoked widespread gratitude and admiration, it has also provoked debate about whether it was the right or only choice she had. In her own revelatory column, Salon’s Joan Walsh discloses that she too was confronted with the grave choice of having a double mastectomy after both her mother and grandmother were diagnosed with breast cancer. She opted for a difference choice — annual screening mammograms and twice-yearly breast exam — to keep the disease at bay. “I’m so glad I didn’t listen to the alarmist doctor who wanted to treat my breasts like “ticking time bombs,” she wrote. “But I continue with aggressive oversight to this day.”
Jolie, the mother of six, says that the death of her mother, Marcheline Bertrand, who passed away from cancer at the age of 56, was central to her decision to have the surgery.
So beginning in February, the star would don disguises as she reported for a series of medical procedures to have her breasts removed and then reconstructed. Jolie says her fiancé, Brad Pitt, showed his support every step of the process.
“I am fortunate to have a partner who is so loving and supportive,” she wrote. “Brad was at the Pink Lotus Breast Center, where I was treated, for every minute of the surgeries. We managed to find moments to laugh together. We knew this was the right thing to do for our family and that it would bring us closer. And it has.”
The Moneyball star opened up about his partner’s surgeries in an interview with USA Today saying, “She could have stayed absolutely private about it and I don’t think anyone would have been none the wiser with such good results. But it was really important to her to share the story and that others would understand it doesn’t have to be a scary thing. In fact, it can be an empowering thing, and something that makes you stronger and us stronger.”
Brad also said that Angelina still traveled to the Congo, London, and New York to honor her humanitarian commitments during the 3-month long mastectomy process.
Although Jolie initially kept the procedures a secret, she says that she’s come forward “because I hope that other women can benefit from my experience.”
The star says that the surgeries have reduced her chance of developing breast cancer “from 87 percent to under 5 percent” and that she encourages any women considering taking this type of step in ensuring their health to discuss their risk factors and options with their doctors.
“On a personal note, I do not feel any less of a woman,” Jolie said. “I feel empowered that I made a strong choice that in no way diminishes my femininity.”
“Life comes with many challenges,” the star said. “The ones that should not scare us are the ones we can take on and take control of.”
Kyra Senese is a student of pop culture studying journalism at Columbia College In Chicago..