I have been wanting to write about preventive mastectomy ever since Angelina Jolie announced that she had both breasts removed because her doctors told her she was at high risk for developing cancer. While I understand that women with inherited BRCA genetic mutations are at increased risk, there is also the possibility they will not get cancer. I strongly believe in focusing on the positive and living in the moment. What you focus on expands.
In this post I will be referring to the patient as “she,” even though men can get breast cancer, because the factors that promote fear around the disease mainly affect women.
Women worry about their families, especially what will become of their children, if they die. Cancer is a threat not just to them personally but to all the people they love who depend on them: they worry more for others than for themselves. They want to do everything possible to keep the worst from happening. But worry and fear are close conspirators, and excessive fear lowers the body’s natural defenses.
In her book Dying to Be Me, survivor Anita Moorjani writes that freedom from fear cured her of terminal cancer. She believes that her fear of cancer contributed to her disease in the first place and gave it momentum up until the day she was expected to die. Her near-death experience taught her that there was nothing to fear, and she healed spontaneously. (I will be posting my review of her book in the near future.)
I had a similar epiphany myself, though on a smaller scale. In my book Finding My Invincible Summer I write about my breast cancer journey from fear to freedom. I also write about the trend toward less invasive surgery and recent studies showing that most invasive mastectomies done today are unnecessary: a lumpectomy or partial mastectomy would suffice.
In following up after the first cancer treatment, the doctors’ intention is to protect the patient and catch any changes before the situation gets out of “control.” However, this follow-up creates a “system” in which woman are constantly living in fear, always wondering what’s going to happen next. In my case, I refused to be followed – but that’s another story, told in detail in my book.
A new study shows that when women with breast cancer had their second breast removed as a precaution, the surgery had almost no effect on whether or not they had a recurrence. Meanwhile, the patient had weakened her body’s defense against disease by exposing it to the stress, trauma, and risks of major surgery.
No one can promise that a woman won’t get breast cancer, but they can’t promise that she will get it, either. My advice to Angelina would have been to forget about preventive mastectomy and live each day present in the moment without fear of the future.