Thursday, 16 May 2013

Angelina's choices

The press today is full of discussion about Angelina Jolie's decision to have a double mastectomy to prevent breast cancer.  She carries the BRCA1 gene, giving her an 87% chance of getting breast cancer and a 50% chance of getting ovarian cancer, the same cancer that killed her mother.  The process has meant some pre-operative preparation, the mastectomies and then reconstruction, taking 8 weeks or so in all. During this time she has continued to work and no-one has noticed a thing. Now she has taken the plunge, others are revealing their cancer battles too. Her interview, with The Times, is incredibly matter-of-fact: I had these odds presented to me, I wanted to give myself the best chance of a future with my family so here is what I did. The articles praise her bravery - and take the "opportunity" to publish pictures of her in the skimpiest outfits possible.

This all sets me thinking - is it really that brave to take the treatment, preventative, curative or palliative? Or is it a courage born of necessity? No-one wants to go through pain and illness but when, like Angelina, you're faced with the choice between treatment pain and dying pain, between seeing your children grow up and them seeing you crumble away, that doesn't strike me as courage.

Please don't misunderstand me, I am in no way denigrating what she or any other cancer affected person has gone through. It just made me think a bit about the times people have said to me, "You're so brave, going through that horrible treatment". And I've smiled shyly, shaken my head and rejected the compliment in that terribly British way. Then I look at my children and realise there's nothing else I could have done. When cancer leaves you with only one choice you can make - between living and dying - that's no choice at all.

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