Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Beautiful People With An Ugly Gene

I really didn't know if I would post today until I saw the article in Reuters about Angelina Jolie and her double  mastectomy. Her mother died of breast cancer, so she had gene testing for BRCA1, found out she carried the gene and elected to have life saving surgery. Brad was with her through the whole ordeal. Sigh.
 I don't want to know what it's like to have to make a decision like this. I hope I never find out. Because I can't afford it.
Angelina urges women to get tested, kudos to her. But you'd think with all her experience in the arena of social justice she would realize that a $3000 test and a double mastectomy with reconstructive surgery costing upwards of $50,000, is not possible in the US, for millions of women, let alone for women  in the war torn countries she's visited.
Angelina's heart was probably in the right place, but it seems like the only people who can have an outcome like hers are the wealthy and celebrities. It's not going to be the middle aged woman down the street whose mother died of breast cancer. It's not going to be the cashier at Walmart or the pharmacist at Walgreens.  Raising awareness is a great thing, unless you are aware you are at risk and can't do anything about it.
When someone as beautiful and talented as Angelina Jolie has a fatal flaw like a gene marker for breast cancer, we all feel sympathy, we acknowledge her courage dealing with a life threatening disease. That someone like her, with everything going for her and every advantage could succumb to a cancer that kills almost 40,000 women a year, is frightening. The estimates for 2013 are about 232,340 new cases of invasive breast cancer in women* I think that looks like an epidemic. If that many people contracted SARS, I wonder what the response would be?
Last year, there was a huge scandal about the Susan Komen  Foundation, eliminating $680,000 in grants to Planned Parenthood for breast cancer screenings, which they backpedaled after criticism and restored the grants. That was bad enough, but what really stuck with me were the bloated salaries for the people running this "non-profit." The  Komen Foundation spends a lot of money suing companies or people who use "the cure" in their advertising. A lot of money is spent on awareness, but like the Slate article I linked says, who's not aware of breast cancer? Couldn't they sink all that money into research? Just a thought. I think that's what we need more of, research. Breast cancer has been around for a very long time, as far back as 1600 BC, Egypt. It just seems kind of crazy to me that the most fortunate among us like Angelina Jolie's best option is to cut off her breasts to beat this disease. Shouldn't we be able to do better than that? I mean for every woman, not just Jolie.
I am happy for Angelina and her family that she may live a long life due to her radical and expensive treatment. But I feel kind of depressed about average women who also have families, that simply will not be able to have access to that kind of treatment. They will just be living a kind of quiet desperation of NOT being one of the beautiful people who have the breast cancer gene.
*How many women get breast cancer?


  1. Very sobering post... very sobering.

    The worst part is that I really wouldn't want her to form a non-profit to help fund breast cancer awareness- this issue shouldn't be funded through the largesse of the wealthy. We need a single payer health program, desperately.

  2. So true, Bad, for the sick and the healthy. Healthcare should be a basic human right. It is sickening to know that profit made from the sick is more of a priority, than the people in this country having access to medical care. A single payer health system is what every civilized country has. What does that say about America?