Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Angelina Jolie, cancer, and why you might have privilege too...

I got severely shitty with the large number of “check your privilege” tweets on twitter today about Angelina Jolie’s news that she had opted for preventative bilateral total mastectomies due to her genetic risk for breast cancer. My reasons for being so grumpy went deeper than 140 characters could explain, so I kept my mouth shut and waited until I got home to write this.
The fundamental issue I had is that there is only one reason to have a preventative mastectomy, and that is to avoid a condition that could KILL you. So if you are worried about anything other than survival, when you read about Angelina Jolie’s choice, Check YOUR privilege.
YES, that’s right. If you didn’t get a cold fucking chill down the back of your neck, and that little voice in your head saying “I know why she did that”. CHECK YOUR FUCKING PRIVILEGE.

I’m not saying that you haven’t had to think about death, dying, or risk to your life.
In fact, most people, by the time they hit 50 have probably had some form of lump or bump, or scary moment that has meant they have sat down and written a will, and thought about their life-span and how long it may be.

But MOST of us had those moments thrust upon us.
I didn’t go out looking for trouble. It came to me.
My friend didn’t expect to find a fatal cancer, it was caught by her lovely GP.
My Uncle didn’t expect to start having seizures for no reason – but he did.
And THEN, and only then, did we start to take action to do with our own mortality.

It takes courage to look death in the face and make sensible choices. To take steps to decide to fight. Perhaps even to stop fighting, and make the decision to turn and face it and make the most of time remaining.
It takes bravery.
It also takes time, and support and endless cups of tea and good people.
A lot of people don’t look.
They avoid check-ups.
They skip prostate exams.
They delay mammograms.
They don’t visit the doctor, because “everyone has blood in their poop sometimes.”*
They make excuses, they look the other way. They avoid the issue.

Because this shit is HARD people.

And this woman didn’t just deal with something when it came to her, she anticipated it, sought out the hard truth about her mother’s death and faced her own mortality. Took some MASSIVE steps to avoid a bad outcome in the future, and has reduced her risk.
But this took courage, and the insight that her body wasn’t in her control. That her genetic code could eventually turn against her.
A real understanding that she could die.

And that’s not a privilege, that’s life. But I think you missed the point if you are worried about who paid.

*they don’t. Always check with your doc if your poop has changed or you notice blood.


  1. Interesting. I hadn't heard this story before, but under the circumstances she seems to be making a reasonable choice.

  2. Just to be super clear - Im not making a statement about any of the options to do with breast cancer treatment or prevention. Every case, woman and cancer is completely different and individual and only the patient can make these choices.

  3. OK, this time I should be able to post.

    While she may have a number of privileges of status and wealth and ability to get the treatment, it is just incredible that she is able to do this, and be so strong and brave. And it is a wonderful antidote to the utterly vile "tatas" campaigns.

    I almost cried when I saw on the news her saying that her risk of breast cancer was 87% but is now less than 5%. A number of fools have criticised her along the lines of "yeah well she obviously doesn't care about the ovarian cancer". These idiots probably missed the bit where she said this is the start because it is the highest risk.

    I've never had cancer. But I have had to face it. That moment of shock when you get The Call. I remember it so clearly. It had been a few months after my scan and was told they'd only call if there was anything wrong, so I'd almost forgotten about it. But then...

    Dr Fung: "Ahh David, it's Dr Fung here. We've got the results of your MRI and there's something...not quite right"
    Me: (thinking) That bloody pause scared me. This doesn't seem good

    Dr Fung: "I'd like to see you first thing tomorrow morning"
    Me: *thinks. Oh shit, THAT bad?
    Me: "Is this something I should bring my partner for as well?" (before I married my beloved)

    Dr Fung: "I think that might be a good idea"

    I didn't want to tell Kristina by phone. I knew that would just not be right. So waited until we got home to tell her. Funny thing is, I was more worried about how she would react than for myself. But I initially switched into analyst mode to cope. I really do think my reaction was "meh tumour schmumour, I'll deal with it when I know the detail" because I did know that a "tumour" doesn't necessarily mean anything.

    When they told me they thought the bigger tumour (2.5cm in the corpus callosum) was an oligodendroglioma, I realised that I really might die here. It was the first time the word "incurable" actually meant something real to me. But still, I was grateful for Kristina's bravery and support, and my ongoing analyst approach. Still, it was unknown, so until I **knew** there really was nothing I could do.

    When there was no change at the 6-month scan, I realised it wouldn't be what they thought. One year, then two, then four. But for the most part it was an irrelevance. It was just a thing that I had no control over. There were two tumours, the other was half its size. Kristina called the, Tweety and Sylvester.

    Weird thing is that the neurosurgeon said that it would be easier if the larger tumour grew. Because then it would more naturally push apart the two hemispheres, making it easier to access the tumour. But the little bugger just lies there, not doing much. Personally, I am blaming that. I have taken on the properties of my tumour.

    But then Tweety disappeared. And now two others have taken its place.

    I am pretty certain they are just neurofibromas. Just don't know. The risk from biopsy is too great. They're small, they aren't particularly active, so it's just best to leave them alone.

    They're my little friends.

    Updated post from the Facebook thingie just to make it a better blog post comment. Thanks as always Scube. xx


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