Labelling the decision to undergo a double mastectomy as “My Medical Choice”, the 37-year-old actress revealed all in an op-ed featured in the New York Times last week. Jolie wrote that she carried the BRCA1 gene mutation, which gave her an 87 per cent risk of developing breast cancer during her lifetime. The mutation also increases her chances of ovarian cancer by 50 per cent.
The article’s publication has incited an outpour of praise from the public, including celebrities such as Barbara Walters, Jamie Lee Curtis and Sheryl Crow. Walters claimed she could relate to the decision, because she herself had her ovaries removed. Curtis called her “bold” and “brave”.
But Jolie’s very public announcement has instigated cries of resentment, too. It’s prompted one article to go viral, written by Deborah Johnstone, titled “I will never be able to afford Angelina Jolie’s mastectomy.”
And Johnstone has a point: the tests to detect the abnormal genes alone cost up to $3,000. That’s not taking into consideration the mastectomy itself, or the intensive reconstructive surgery after that. As Johnstone writes, “The issue of affordability has been swept under the carpet. The media has instantly polarised the debate in terms of women who may or may not entreat medical intervention.”
This isn’t even considering the flip side of the medical coin, as the New York Times’ Denise Grady, Tara Parker-Pope and Pam Belluck point out:
“But some doctors also expressed worry that her disclosure could be misinterpreted by other women, fuelling the trend toward mastectomies that are not medically necessary for many early-stage breast cancers.”
Rumours are now circulating that the Salt actress is considering the removal of her ovaries too, given the 50 per cent increased chance she has of developing the aggressive cancer strain. Which opens up a whole other can of worms: where do you draw the line?
Jolie does acknowledge that the measures are expensive, and that her goal for coming out so publicly was to raise awareness of the test options, but the fact remains that many women around the world simply can’t afford to get sick. And perhaps knowing there are costly preventative measures out there is only rubbing salt into the wound.