mastectomy

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My ‘Personal Fantasy’ For Angelina Jolie (Hint: It’s All About Genes)

By Cathy Corman
Guest contributor

Back in 1998, I tested positive for the same genetic mutations that led Angelina Jolie to have a double mastectomy. When I talked with my doctor about the surgery to remove my healthy breasts and ovaries, I asked her what would be left of my femininity.  “You still have your brain,” she told me.

I’ve thought about that exchange as I’ve read commentaries weighing in this week on the meaning of Angelina Jolie’s decision to undergo prophylactic mastectomies and to go public with the details. Most have focused on the impact of Jolie’s decisions on her film career and on women’s assessment of cancer risks.  They have missed an important point:  Jolie’s revelation is ultimately as much about her brain as her body.

Ivan Tortuga/flickr

Ivan Tortuga/flickr

There’s a reason Jolie has been the highest paid actress in Hollywood, earning up to $30 million a year.  Sure, she’s got bee-stung lips, big boobs, a tiny waist and comely hips. But she’s not just beautiful.  She’s brainy.  Jolie has cannily put her physical assets to work in roles that have allowed her to link sex and power: as video-game heroine Lara Croft, a super spy in Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and as a daring CIA agent in the film Salt. Jolie has taken her body to the bank by choosing to be seen as active and able.

Jolie consciously continues in her role as action/adventure hero in the way she shapes her decisions to undergo genetic testing and surgery.

Here’s how:

• She remains powerful because she controls the flow of information.  She managed to keep her mastectomies private until she was ready to share.  And when she chose to share, she “bared all” on the opinion page of what is arguably the most respected newspaper in the world. Continue reading

Scar Wars: A Tongue, A Hip And One Dancer’s Mastectomy

It may be a little macabre, but don’t miss Martha Bebinger’s excellent mutimedia report, “Your Medical History In Scars.” Her piece overflows with moving personal stories, a smart history of surgery and a powerful overview of how scars change people’s physical and emotional lives.

My personal favorite is the story of a dancer, Catherine Musinsky, who overcame the pain of her mastectomy by enlisting an artist to beautifully illustrate the part of her body she’d lost.

There are more grisly stories as well, like this one from Jack Fultz:

The following may be TMI for your piece but my original incision would likely have left an inconsequential small scar

Infection during that original surgery resulted in a gnarly incision/scar from my second surgery – reminiscent of Frankenstein.

Ten weeks later that nasty scar, which never fully healed and closed erupted with a second infection – MRSA this time – requiring two more surgeries six days apart, leaving me with an appalling open wound requiring a one-month stink tethered to a “Wound Vac” and finally leaving me with my current lovely morsel of a scar.

A lot to pay for the pain-free movement I know enjoy. And though my “retread” hip will never be a good as the original, “all things considered”, it was worth it.

To join Martha’s project, please send your own story and photo to scars@wbur.org.