I never wrote about Angelina Jolie’s decision to undergo a preventative mastectomy – and her discovery that she is positive for the BRCA gene mutation – but today, Melissa Etheridge stepped in to offer her two cents and I need to write about that.
“I wouldn’t call it the brave choice,” Etheridge, 52, says. “I actually think it’s the most fearful choice you can make when confronting anything with cancer. My belief is that cancer comes from inside you and so much of it has to do with the environment of your body. It’s the stress that will turn that gene on or not.”
Not the brave choice. The most fearful choice.
While I don’t jump to classify myself as brave, and while it’s obvious that any cancer prevention is routed in fear (really – why else would you try to prevent something other than because you want to avoid it?) – I don’t agree with her. I don’t agree particularly with her sentiment and I don’t agree with her wording.
Now, I don’t think everyone should have surgery. God knows I spend some days wishing I never had. But Angelina Jolie’s choice was just that – her choice. It infuriates me that, instead of saying “That wasn’t the right choice for me, so here’s what I did,” someone would blatantly say it’s wrong to make that choice.
Not only that, but saying we all just need to eat better or avoid stress implies that we’re responsible for our own cancer diagnoses, should they come. If you get cancer, well – you should’ve eaten your vegetables and quit your high-stress job. It’s true that a healthy diet and physical fitness can help prevent cancer, but with genetic mutations, there’s no guarantee just being healthy will help. Just as it’s true that not everyone with a BRCA mutation will have cancer, it’s true that not everyone who lives a healthy lifestyle will be free of cancer.
Everyone is entitled to their opinions and their own choices, but everyone should also be entitled to having their choices respected. Maybe someone blatantly asked Ms. Etheridge about her opinion on this surgery and she felt she had to get the word out about non-surgery options. I can respect that. What I have a hard time respecting is her insistence on inferring that we are weak. All of us dealing with cancer – or a predisposition to it – are brave in our own ways, surgery or no surgery. It’s not a competition; these decisions suck for us all.