What I Think Of Angelina Jolie’s Decision

In the midst of a very crazy last two weeks I received a call from The New Paper, asking me for a quote on Angelina Jolie.

At that point I hadn’t yet read that she had undergone a double mastectomy and removed all her healthy breast tissue because she had tested positive for a harmful mutation of the BRCA1 gene.

Somwhat ironic now to think that the costumer for Tomb Raider gave Angelina Jolie boosted boobs for the first Tomb Raider movie.

Somwhat ironic now to think that the costumer for Tomb Raider gave Angelina Jolie boosted boobs for the first Tomb Raider movie.

But TNP quickly brought me up to speed, and asked me what I thought.

I spoke honestly, and said I felt it was too drastic a move to make, to get rid of all of one’s breast tissue in the off chance that one might get breast cancer.

The reporter asked me if, like some other breast cancer survivors, I thought Angelina was brave. I replied I did not.

In fact, I felt that was she was doing was really taking action out of fear.

My belief is this: God has not given me a spirit of fear, but power, love and a sound mind.

Can I understand what Angelina Jolie went through? Yes. My mother battled breast cancer for 13 years, just as her mother battled ovarian cancer for eight. My mother never lived long enough to meet my youngest child. Do I share Angelina’s fear that my children have to suffer the agony of seeing me die of cancer? I most certainly dread the thought.

I can absolutely understand what must have gone through her mind:
1. She’s had her babies and probably isn’t thinking of birthing anymore, so not having to breastfeed, she can safely jettison her breast tissue.
2. Getting rid of her breast tissue before cancer has a chance to form ensures that she maintains the beauty of both breasts. Unlike me, she wouldn’t have to sacrifice her nipples.

If my doctor told me, like Angelina Jolie, I had an 87% chance of getting cancer, there is a chance I might feel differently. But I guess I live in hope — as my oncologist did tell me, there is also a chance I will never get cancer again. My doctors have all said to me that for every patient they have seen suffer a relapse, they have seen another one live a long healthy life, never to be plagued again by the disease.

My point? Only God knows the future. I choose to live as fruitful and fear-free a life as I possibly can.

My best friend Karen did ask me, when I was studying the finer points of my breast reconstruction, if I would have both removed since I was at it. My answer was no, and it hasn’t changed.

When I saw my oncologist three months after my mastectomy, he suggested I go to NUH and get tested for mutations in my BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.

These were my thoughts:
1. What would I do if I discovered I had the mutated gene? Would I opt for breast tissue removal of my left breast? I could not confidently answer yes, yet I knew it would be on my mind for the rest of my life. I treasure my peace, which I now have.
2. As my oncologist pointed out, not every woman who has the mutation will for sure get cancer. How much faith do I have?
3. If my daughters knew I went for the test, it would be natural for them to also go for it. Am I robbing them of a future—they may opt to have breast tissue and their ovaries removed, in which case they will never have children.

Here are the facts:
• Studies show that 60% with a harmful mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes will contract breast or ovarian cancer. This is why Angelina is also now contemplating having her ovaries removed.
• Such a mutation in the BRCA1 gene is also linked to cervical, uterine, pancreatic and colon cancers. Would she remove all of these too?
• BRCA1 mutation is just one mutation. Other mutations linked with hereditary breast cancer include BRCA2,TP53, PTEN, STK11/LKB1, CDH1, CHEK2, ATM, MLH1, and MSH2. Would she test for them all? Would I? I don’t think so.

All said, do I think that, given the circumstances, Angelina did a wise thing? I do. Upon discovering a mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes, women have options: you can keep a close eye on things (be vigilant about mammograms and other screenings, cancer marker tests etc), you can opt for chemoprevention, you can avoid risky behaviors (smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, chemical ingestion etc), or you can opt for a prophylactic surgery like Angelina did.

If I had to choose among these 4, I guess I would have done like Angelina and maximised my chances of avoiding cancer. Even so, there is still a chance for women to develop breast, ovarian or primary peritoneal carcinomatosis despite such a surgery, because not all at-risk tissue can be removed.

What I have found is, there is no guarantee against death. The only guarantee is death itself. Fear is a greedy animal — once you let it in, it will eat you up from the inside.

I choose to do the best I can, live as prosperously as I can, enjoy all the time I have with my children and my husband, and do what God has tasked me to do, in the days He has already numbered for me.

Recommended reading on BRCA mutations.

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Eww! There’s A Hair On My New Boob

SPOILER ALERT: This post might potentially offend some with its utter political incorrectness. For that I apologize.

Hamadryas Baboons at the Singapore Zoo have every right to hairy boobs. And now, so do I!

This morning as I am toweling myself dry after my shower, I look down and notice a little teeny tiny hair where it should not be.

It measures about 1/2 a centimetre long, and is quite thick at the root.

It’s growing out of the patch of skin that Dr Andrew Khoo, my plastic surgeon, used to recreate a new breast for me.

So, I have a hair on my new boob.

I whip out my tweezers and poise the tips over this offensive follicle — and at that moment, it strikes me that I’m looking at my tummy really up close and personal for the first time. Because it’s that belt of fat and skin that used to be under my belly button that’s now playing right breast. I stare at the skin, and realise, it’s really different from breast skin! Tummy skin has bigger pores, and the texture and feeling is totally different from the breast. Plus, small hairs have been known to grow on mine… Duh!

I recall seeing a photo of a lady who had had a TRAM flap done too. Unfortunately, her new boob bore stretch marks from the Area Formerly Known As Her Tummy. It looked like a bacon cookie in the centre of her breast. At the risk of sounding vain (which I am), I’m glad I don’t have that problem.

Also, it makes me realise that my new breast is actually growing! It’s alive! That’s how the hair can grow, right? Having a TRAM flap means that I have a reconstructed breast from my very own body, no synthetic parts. It may be a while before it feels “natural” to me, but at least I know it really is 100% me.

So, I put my tweezers away and leave my little teeny tiny hair where its new home now is. A teeny tiny reminder to be grateful for all things, big and small.