I should start this post with an explanation I guess. I always liked Angelina Jolie. I had a crush on her character in Hackers, or maybe it was her haircut, and I think I watched Girl Interrupted about 400 times when I was 16, but Christ, the coverage of her surgery has made having a similar gene mutation harder for me.
You might think it would be easier. And I suppose it is in the sense that people have a frame of reference when I’ve tried to explain it to them, but, prior to actually finding out that I had cancer, I felt like if I told people I had the mutation then they’d just assume I’d be having a mastectomy. (And an oophorectomy, but no-one really cares about that bit because that doesn’t impact on how someone looks.)
People would go “Oh, like Angelina Jolie? So, will you be having a mastectomy?” Super-casual. Like cutting off parts of my body is something I decide on the spur of a moment. And breasts, boobs, knockers, puppies, jugs, whatever you want to call them, have a pretty large presence in modern life, don’t they? Even little ones, like mine (pre and post breast-feeding, that is). I can remember desperately wanting boobs as I grew up. They’re a mark of woman-hood, of making-it-in-in-the-do-or-die-world-of-pre-pubescent-girls. So forgive me if I needed a bit of time to tell you. Or didn’t tell you at all.
When I first got my positive diagnosis of ‘just’ the gene mutation in 2015, I really didn’t cope well. It was only getting pregnant that gave me something else to think about, and I wouldn’t recommend it as a coping strategy as it keeps you pretty busy. I’d go for something less labour-intensive, like Netflix, or knitting. Anyway, it seemed at the time that the papers were full of BRCA1 stories and the ‘brave’ women who chose to have surgery. I used to bloody hate that word. Brave. Like I was some coward for not wanting surgery. Looking back, maybe I was. I used to dread finding a story in the morning press catch-up at work. I would always get highly defensive about screening recommendations and surgery and I was convinced it was obvious I was ‘dealing with some personal shit’ but I probably just came over a but weird.
If I’d had the mastectomy and oophorectomy back then, I wouldn’t have had my daughter. I can’t imagine that at all.
So, I guess what I’m saying is this: People who make these decisions don’t make them because they are Brave or Fighters. They don’t set out on a crusade to be role models for everyone else with shitty genes. They just want to be alive long enough for something else to be the most important thing they have to deal with.
And I’m sorry for swearing at Angelina Jolie. She didn’t ask for this either.