The worth of a woman is not the sum of her body parts, but the amount of effort she makes to live her life with purpose, the accumulation of wisdom she earns and shares with others, and the values she holds close to her heart.- Melanie
It takes a lot of courage to get things off your chest — both physically and emotionally. That’s why Angelina Jolie’s announcement this past week that she underwent a prophylactic mastectomy after testing positive for the BRCA1 gene mutation resonated among so many people.
Here is one of the most beautiful women in the world for whom privacy is a rarity. She opened up publicly about a very difficult and personal decision she made for herself and for her family. I admire Angelina for putting her health first in an industry where impeccable looks and achieving the perfect body are a requirement for getting ahead. I love the fact that she faced a health decision head on, weighed her options and made a decision based on what was inside her chest, in her heart, and not on the outside. Angelina knew what it was like to lose a mother to cancer, and she did not want her children to experience the same heartbreaking loss.
So much emphasis is placed on physical perfection and sometimes at the expense of one’s health. We’ve heard of reports where women die on the operating table undergoing some pretty drastic cosmetic surgery to achieve body perfection. In Angelina’s story, a beautiful women undergoes drastic surgery to achieve body health. There are women who will pay a small fortune for cosmetic injections and body tweaks like clockwork during the year but cannot be bothered to schedule an annual physical or a mammogram to monitor their health.
As I researched my book, Getting Things Off My Chest: A Survivor's Guide To Staying Fearless and Fabulous in the Face of Breast Cancer, many of the women whom I interviewed who underwent mastectomies for breast cancer said losing their breasts was a better option than the prospect of losing their lives. In most cases breasts can be reconstructed. Lives cannot be brought back. After testing positive for the BRCA2 genetic mutuation after my own cancer diagnosis, I decided to undergo a prophylactic oophorectomy to remove my ovaries and fallopian tubes. The risk for my getting ovarian cancer was just too high, and my ovaries were no longer useful to me anyway. There, I got that piece of information off my chest. Thank you Angelina!
Losing your breasts, your ovaries or your uterus does not mean you are any less of a woman. The value of a woman should be based on her mind, her heart and her character and not on her body parts (professional opera singers, ballet dancers, violinists and athletes, I acknowledge the value of your body as a work of art).
For me, Angelina’s open message to the public in the New York Times goes beyond the fact that she underwent genetic testing and made the choice to undergo her surgery. She really “got things off her chest” with a straightford assessment of what led to her decision. In a soothing manner akin to telling a bedtime story, she explained the process she underwent and let us know we can make choices about how we take control of our health and why it is important to do so.
For many it is hard to get things off their chest. We are too hung up on how we will be perceived. Or we fear life will change for the worse. It took me almost two years to say the words “I had cancer” publicly out of concern for my professional health and out of fear I would lose business.