I was a senior in high school, on my way to college, and a woman in the making, but I still was not allowed to watch HBO.
Late one night, however, against the advice of my parents, I tuned in.
It was a biopic about a fashion icon. I already idolized Cindy Crawford, Christie Turlington, Niki Taylor, and Linda Evangelista. But this was the story of the woman who started it all.
Her name was Gia.
The actress who was playing her equally took my breath away. Her porcelain skin, full lips, doll nose and cat-like eyes mesmerized me.
I had been completely comfortable in my heterosexuality since the fifth grade when I French kissed Roger Greenwood (while my friends watched and counted the seconds we could remain lip-locked), but my draw to this girl made me question it all. She was a new actress. She was a goddess, and her name was Angelina.
Angelina Jolie is a badass! She is a phenomenal actress, humanitarian, mother, wife, and non-conformist. She has inspired millions of surgeries in an attempt to recreate her looks. And now she has hopefully inspired thousands of surgeries to save lives.
Angelina Jolie carries a mutation in a gene called BRCA1. BRCA1 and BRCA2 are human genes. Inherited mutations in either of these genes increase the risk of both ovarian and breast cancer.
A harmful BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation can be inherited from a person’s mother or father. Each child of a parent who carries a mutation in one of these genes has a 50 percent chance of inheriting the mutation.
Woman that have a mutation in BRCA1 have an up to 70% lifetime risk of developing breast cancer and up to 40% lifetime risk of developing ovarian cancer.
Women that have a mutation in BRCA2 have an up to 70% lifetime risk of developing breast cancer and up to 20% lifetime risk of developing ovarian cancer.
But these gene mutations are only responsible for approximately 10% of cases of ovarian cancer and 3–5% of cases of breast cancer. The majority of breast cancer cases are not linked to the BRCA gene!
So who should be screened?
Family history factors that are associated with an increased likelihood of having a harmful mutation in BRCA1 or BRCA2, include:
- Breast cancer diagnosed before age 50 years
- Cancer in both breasts
- Both breast and ovarian cancers
- Breast cancers in several different relatives
- A known BRCA mutation in the family
- Male breast cancer
- Ashkenazi Jewish decent
So if you have any of these factors in your family history, talk to your doctor.
Some people are “afraid to know”, but you shouldn’t be. A positive test is not a death sentence, it is just an awesome way of getting early surveillance and possible preventative treatments such as a mastectomy and a bilateral salpingo-oopherectomy (removal of fallopian tubes and ovaries and the procedure that Jolie had performed several weeks ago when her surveillance blood draw seemed to show signs of possible early cancer.)
So if you believe that you have a family history that may be high risk don’t hesitate and don’t be afraid. Let Angelina Jolie draw you in, mesmerize you and inspire you not only with her beauty, talent and ability to tote around all those children, but by her courage to take responsibility for her own health and bravery to speak about it.