Angelina Jolie and I have something in common.  I just wish it was her beautiful lips!   (She can keep Brad...he looks too scrappy and old these days, with all his facial hair).

Angelina released this article today; My Medical Choice which tells candidly of her decision to undergo a prophylactic double mastectomy.

MY MOTHER fought cancer for almost a decade and died at 56. She held out long enough to meet the first of her grandchildren and to hold them in her arms. But my other children will never have the chance to know her and experience how loving and gracious she was.

We often speak of “Mommy”™s mommy,” and I find myself trying to explain the illness that took her away from us. They have asked if the same could happen to me. I have always told them not to worry, but the truth is I carry a “faulty” gene, BRCA1, which sharply increases my risk of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer.

My doctors estimated that I had an 87 percent risk of breast cancer and a 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer, although the risk is different in the case of each woman.

I made the same decision in 2005.

Some called me brave, as they have called Angelina.  I really don't consider myself brave.  My mom had the same procedure in the 1970's and modeled calm, factual and, yes, perhaps brave behavior.   My sister and I were never freaked out (as teenage girls this was quite something), or questioned her decision.  I truly believe she is still with us today because she chose (fully supported by my dad and her doctors) to have this surgery.   Although her reconstruction did not go as planned, she never complained, or regretted having the surgery.  She and my dad continue to have a great relationship to this day and have been a solid example of what marriage can be (57 years this coming October).

After many months of constant trips to my OB/GYN for mammograms, ultrasounds, aspirations and biopsies, I started researching prophylactic mastectomy for myself.   My wonderful husband and doctor were on board.  Unfortunately my insurance company was not!   I found a plastic surgeon that would do both my mastectomy and reconstruction in his same day surgery center so I would not have to pay hospital fees, as John and I were paying for everything out-of-pocket.

I would love to say all went well in one surgery, but it didn't.  Our bodies natural response to foreign objects is to encapsulate, or scar, around it.   I chose, as Angelina did, to reconstruct with implants.  I encapsulated three times, thus needing three additional minor surgeries to correct this.    My surgeon was quite wonderful and did two out of the three at no additional cost.  He thought I was brave as well...

My sister Mary is three year's younger than I am.  She had the surgery four years ago.    Once again, with the full support of her husband and doctor.

It's hard to believe it has already been 8 years.  I have never, ever looked back.  Having prophylactic mastectomy was one of the very best decisions I have ever made.  John has thanked me on more than one occasion.  I also received an interesting call from my oldest daughter.  She was watching a morning show in which they were interviewing one of the hosts that was extremely emotional about the  same surgery I had.  Abby said, "Mom, you never made a big deal about it.  Even when you had to go back for corrective surgery, you just did it."

I am glad this is what she remembers.  She helped me a lot the first night I came home and it wasn't super pretty!  I want both Abby and Carly to know they are empowered to make their own decisions regarding their health and there are good options available.  Yes, it was surgery, and yes, it changed my body, but reconstruction options are great, and surgery doesn't have to be scary.   I don't have the constant worry anymore- at the doctor for diagnostics just waiting for the time the biopsy is not benign.  To me, and for us, it was completely worth it.

For me, it wasn't brave, just smart.  I'm glad Angelina went public so more women know they have this option.

If you have any questions, or would like to talk to me about this, please reach out to me at:

Amy Macgowan
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