As someone who never does well in the celebrity section in a quiz and who declines the celeb mags at the hairdresser in favour of the newspaper I have found myself, perhaps surprisingly, very moved by the Angelina Jolie story this week. I can't recall ever seeing one of her films but such is her celebrity my daughters first two goldfish were named after her and Brad! As a wee freckled Celt her olive skinned statuesque beauty is something I can only look on with awe.
Working in an industry which as we know places beauty and youth above so much , especially for women, is not easy in the best of times. And learning you have a faulty gene that puts you at very high risk of breast cancer and ovarian is certainly not the best of times. Living with the knowledge of that risk has a massive impact on those affected. The fear is omnipresent. And so she made a choice to reduce her risk that resulted in a mastectomy of both breasts and reconstruction surgery. Psychologically that's a huge decision and physically it's impact should not be forgotten. This is massive surgery and will have taken its toll. She has shown us she is so much more than her beauty, her body, her breasts....she is an empowered, informed, woman and perhaps very importantly to her, a mother. She knows how it is to lose a mother long before her time. And she has dared an industry who judge women harshly to risk treating her differently.
I remember crying quietly when I learned of Linda McCartney's death from breast cancer. A woman I never really warmed to. She wasn't even married to my favourite Beatle ( that would be George) but I guess what I did know is that she was a committed mother with much to live for. And her wealth couldn't save her. My tears not just for her but for the rest of us for whom money might not be enough to save us too.
Yes Angelina's wealth will have helped . In the US she will be seen as fortunate, many will wish
they could afford to be screened and have the option for risk reduction too. But they will not have the
kind of insurance that would allow that. In the UK those who are at high risk can make those choices without the worry of cost. But they do have to factor in the impact on their health and wellbeing.
There are studies too that look at tamoxifen as a preventive option. That's the same drug that many with a diagnosis of cancer stop taking because of its side effects, too lengthy to list here. Not much of an option is it? Regular screening is also an option but can only identify an early cancer with ensuing physical and psychological Impact. Reconstructive work on a breast that has been treated for cancer can be much less successful. There are no easy answers here, yet.
I'm so glad that Angelina has taken this decision from a place of health, empowered to make the right choice for her. I welcome her honesty on behalf of others. And the ensuing debate about making these tests more affordable for others too. But let's not forget what we really need are far better
options for people in this situation. Investment in research and collaboration to understand more fully
how to prevent the disease has to be the best option for the longer term. And therefore better options than an are more available to frightened young women than this.
They all deserve better.