Melissa Etheridge, on BRCA

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.

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3 thoughts on “Melissa Etheridge, on BRCA

  1. I have to agree with you…at 27 I was faced with Fallopian Tube Carcinoma a very rare form of cancer, one that they had very little data one. In fact, my doctor’s words to me where “in my 25 years of being a doctor I have never seen this before”! You never want to hear that from your doctor and there I was a young woman being faced with a surgery that would strip me of my woman-hood (so to speak).
    I recently got the genetic testing done for the BRACA Gene. I am adopted and know very little about my history although I do know some of it and cancer is common, I don’t know the specifics. My doctor recommended the testing and I just got the call today that they want me to come in to discuss the results and make some decisions about my future care and that of my family members. Those were the words the nurse used, I know they can’t give results like that over the phone but her wording seemed to indicate that there was something there that was serious enough to discuss further!
    I go tomorrow to find out.
    Not knowing the specifics I have to say that if they told me my risk of getting breast cancer was more than 50% I believe I would opt for the surgery. How can anyone living with a high risk not be stressed about potentially getting it in the future? If what Melissa Etheridge says is true of stress causing cancer to some degree how can we not opt for the removal of that specific stress?
    I agree that it’s up to the individual as to what they decide to do and we should just leave it at that. Her commenting on something that has nothing to do with her body and calling it fear is out of line. However, I don’t believe she said what she did out of malice, but I do believe it was unnecessary!

    • I hope your appointment goes/went well today. Please let me know if you do test positive & need any information or advice. This is all old hat to me by this point so I’m happy to help! 🙂

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