Thank you for The New York Times’ op-ed piece, My Medical Choice. As you so rightly put it, “cancer strikes fear in people’s hearts,” and in my experience, many supporters will be awesome, but there will also be people who run for cover or give unwanted commentary at a critical time when the patient needs the greatest support and enough calm to hear her own intuition. I applaud you for this honest expression, for demanding the privacy that you and your family deserved, and for asserting your right to share only what you want and in the way that you wanted.
What I gleaned from your story is that there are, sometimes, steps that a person can take to improve the scientific odds of cancer prevention – scary steps, but there they are, and that you used the data that you were given to make hard decisions.
But more powerful than the medical advances that you described are your opening two paragraphs. You wrote about your mother … that you chose to introduce the news of your own struggle with the words, “My mother fought cancer …” It seems impossible to do the math inclusive of the emotional weight of what you carry in your heart. Do you then multiply one of the percentages times ten, one hundred, or maybe even one million? And which percentage?
As I read your explanation of the statistical odds that you’ve been given, I could almost hear myself taking on that same self-assured-here-are-the-facts tone in explaining my own choices to friends and relatives (Although, definitely minus your Academy Award winning elegance.). So much so, that I could recall the deep pain behind this matter-of-factness.
I was first diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2008, and I now call myself a two-time cancer survivor. I’ve done this kind of explaining countless times. I raise this point, because as certain as I come across in all of my explanations about statistical influence on my decisions, there are actually no guarantees when it comes to cancer. No matter what the data says, there is no way of knowing which side of the statistics you fall on until you get there. Honestly, your 87% risk of disease didn’t in itself scare me, because I’ve faced much higher odds against me. We are individuals, not data points. The right thing to do will always be, whatever your heart tells you.
I’m sure that your celebrity will incite a cacophony of woulda, coulda, shoulda’s. So, I want to do my part to counter that noise by yelling: THANK YOU, for taking on your fears and taking control of your life! You give the rest of us permission to do the same.
Of course, you have the privilege of financial independence, so the threat of genetic discrimination on future employment, eligibility for health insurance, life insurance, adoption and other matters of great concern to most of us less wealthy folks, probably didn’t get in the way of your process. But, that’s not what I want to focus on here. I think it’s important to know what happens when one person followed her intuition without these limits.
Angelina, you may not have technically had cancer, but you are definitely a cancer gangster!
In peace and wondering if this letter will ever get to you,