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I am a wife, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a cousin & a best friend. I am a poet, a lawyer & a survivor. I've learned that God will give you a second chance.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

A Culture of Fear: One Survivor's Perspective

When Angelina Jolie announced that she had a preventative double mastectomy I became angry. I was angry for several reasons. I’d like to think that I’m big enough to not question her motives, but I do. She wants to encourage every woman to seek out information and medical experts who can help them make informed choices. And I know she has a heart for the less fortunate of the world. As my new friend, AnneMarie pointed out, if Ms. Jolie hadn’t gone public with this information someone would have leaked it to the tabloids (while breaking several federal laws, I might add) and then where would we be? We would be in the midst of a media frenzy with no good information. So I’ll hold back judgment on her motives and watch her actions. What does she do with this new status? How does she go about trying to affect change?

The majority of my anger, however, is aimed at what I call a culture of fear. Thanks to the breast cancer awareness movement we are aware; very aware. If you are a woman, you have breasts and you’ve thought about breast cancer. (Admit it). But the media only presents sound bites, and as a result a woman hears the word “cancer” and immediately thinks “mastectomy.” In fact, there is a concern among the medical community that women are having unnecessary mastectomies. According to the Mayo Clinic ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) “is considered a precancerous lesion,” which means it is a risk factor. It is not yet breast cancer but could become breast cancer if it goes untreated. (Similar to colon polyps; if they are not removed they will turn into colon cancer). However, women who are diagnosed with DCIS are having mastectomies.

Additionally, recent studies indicate that lumpectomies and partial mastectomies might actually be healthier for an early stage breast cancer diagnosis. So why are doctors continuing to let women have a mastectomy when it is not warranted? The answer: to help the patient feel better. How about better “awareness” and information? How about accurate reporting by the media?

If I have learned anything it is that each diagnosis is unique. No two women (or men) are the same. And while two people can have the same general diagnosis, (say Stage I breast cancer), that does not mean they will receive same protocol or treatment plan. Once someone has cancer, of any kind, all factors must be weighed to make the right decision. Sometimes that means a double mastectomy.

As for preventative mastectomies, I don’t know. My reaction is quite negative. After all, would you cut off your finger if you got a hang nail because it might get infected? I feel as if the message is the same. You are a woman. You have breasts. Therefore you might get breast cancer. So, you should have a double mastectomy to ward of the possibility of something that is statistically unlikely.

In the end, Ms. Jolie’s decision was personal and nobody’s business. But because she is a celebrity it is everyone’s business. Shame on us for intruding. But more to the point, shame on those who continue to promote a culture of fear.

If you enjoy my blog and would like to follow me on FaceBook, I can be found at The Reluctant Survivor.


  1. Well thought out. We should not be victims of fear. Information is key.

  2. Heather,

    Interesting perspective that you share. You know why I was angry about the hub-a-loo? Because I feel that by Ms. Jolie going public, she is capitalizing on her notoriety in the guise of affecting change. I feel this denegrades the difficult struggle that other women... everyday, regular women who have HAD to have mastectomies for active breast cancer have faced. They do not benefit from being in the public eye, do they? Those women are MY heroes.

    I get that Angelina Jolie is trying to affect change, but isn't she really just making herself look good? Is affecting change the REAL reason behind her going public or was it her FEAR of having a private moment made public the true reason? One will never truly know.

    Either way....great food for thought.

    Lynn Spiro
    Lynn Spiro & Company
    Professional Organizing for your Home & Business