I was a child when my mother told me she had breast cancer. She explained that she was going to have an operation and that when she came home from the hospital, her breasts would be gone. My reply haunts me to this day: “That’s OK, mom; just don’t let them cut your hair.” You see, my mother was a beautiful woman with long, thick black shiny hair, something that a child with fine towhead hair revered.
After the double radical mastectomy, she underwent strenuous chemotherapy. With the twists and turns of life, as her hair began falling out, it was I who took long sheers and cut her remaining hair as she sat stoically watching in the mirror.
These memories and others surrounding her struggle radically changed me and my perceptions about the fragility of health, life and death. For years I have purposefully avoided, denied and declined genetic testing. The reason was simple: Knowing one is pre-disposed to breast cancer has no purpose. If anything, living in fear seemed worse than not knowing one’s body is a ticking time bomb.
Angelina Jolie’s announcement about her decision to have a preventive mastectomy was a gift for women like me, whose mothers have died from this horrid disease. It provided an option that is seemingly viable if the test reveals that we are genetically pre-disposed to breast cancer.
The pre-emptive choice that she made regarding her breast health is not right for everyone; but for women like me who have spent our entire lives wondering, it is certainly an option to consider.