The Lighthouse

the lighthouse

14 May 2013

The question of breasts and cancer and faith

I don't know what to think about Angelina Jolie.

It's not really my place to think about her, or have an opinion about what she's done... except that she's made it public that she had both breasts removed which invites the public into her private life. Now of course there is buzz all over the place with feature acticles on breast cancer and genetics and prevention and so on. There are opinions offered on both sides: she was brave; she was foolish.

Jolie discovered she had an 87% chance of developing breast cancer due to a defective gene and decided to take the offensive approach. What would you have done in her place?  Would you roll the dice that you'd live out your life in the 13% free and clear margin?

I honestly don't know. I don't know how I feel about a woman taking such drastic action. Is it drastic action to take? Or is it smart? I don't know my family medical history very well - one of the negative results of moving as much as we have - but I think every grandparent and aunt and uncle has died of some form of cancer or other (my dad's condition had to do with his blood and wasn't cancerous) so I suppose it's a near certainty I'll find myself getting the same diagnosis eventually. So should I resign myself to it now? Remove my womb or my breasts or my lungs so I wont develop that dread disease later? Even with her breasts gone, she still has a 5% chance of getting cancer so her drastic action doesn't net her a guarantee.

Part of me feels that is a defeatist approach to life. I don't see it as brave or wise. But I also don't wish the experience of cancer and cancer treatments on anyone, especially not a mother of young children.

Part of me feels it is a denial of faith. Not because I believe that since I have faith God will spare me from cancer or that faith alone will cure me of cancer. I am a rational being. I know that God expects us to make use of our gifts and talents to help ourselves and that making use of medical treatments is not a denial of God Himself. 

But my faith also tells me that there is nothing to fear from suffering or death. If the choice were up to me, I definitely wouldn't choose to endure cancer, but I know that if it came to be, I would endure. Even death cannot take from me the most important thing: my eternal soul. My goal is not to get through life with my body in one piece with as little inconvenience as possible; my goal is to get through life with my soul intact and hopefully be granted a place in the Presence of God. I believe even in the terrible circumstance of cancer, God would bring some good from it, for me or for someone else.

I don't seek out death. I'm not deliberately putting myself at risk of cancer or other diseases. I believe health is a gift and a responsibility.  Where I'm torn is at the question of whether removal of significant parts of the body with the hope staving off a future condition - a possible, not a certain condition is wise and responsible or not. Has Jolie forged a new path for women in the fight against breast cancer? Will full, double mastectomies become common preventative action?

I'm rambling without intent. I don't know what it is I want to say, if anything at all.  I guess I'm just sharing my confusion with you.


  1. I can understand your confusion, especially when many researchers have stated this form of therapy (for the reasons stated) does not seem to lengthen life span over vigilance and existing medical treatment. I don't wish to judge her as I have never had the experience of being diagnosed with a gene mutation that could cause a life-threatening disease, but I would hope that each person faced with such a situation would take the time to evaluate all alternatives and not take action based upon what a celebrity did.

    My best friend's wife recently completed over 30 radiation treatments for her tumor, and is now taking drugs to adjust her hormone levels to help prevent a re-occurrence. At some point, I may ask her how she feels about this to get some perspective, but it's too soon right now.

  2. Thanks for writing in, K.
    I'm sorry about your friend's wife. It's not an easy thing to endure, I'm sure, for the whole family.
    Cancer has the ability to bring us to our knees; the word itself is a very frightening thing.
    I still think Jolie's actions were extreme...and yet I acknowledge it's not my place to judge her, as I'm not in her shoes.

  3. I see Jolie's decision a bit like going to confession about a sin that is habitual and you know that you will commit that same sin over and over again and always confessing so what is the point of confessing it if you know you'll do it again? And that's the point. We don't know if we will commit that sin again. I might die before I do so confession was the right thing to do.

    In Jolie's case I suppose she assumed she would get cancer because of her genes, but isn't that giving in to something that might not happen? I know it's a bit extreme but isn't Jolie's actions a preemptive measure based on chances that are slim and without guarantees?

    I'm a smoker and the chances are that I will get lung cancer, does that mean that I should have my lungs removed so I can die on MY terms? Is this where we are going? I really don't like this at all. I'm not Jolie so I cannot judge her at all, but it just doesn't seem right to me.