I continue to watch the effects of Angelina Jolie’s announcement about her elective double mastectomy send waves, heavy and dark and light and buoyant, across the media in my life. Watching the reactions of people I know, people I don’t, reporters, doctors, healthcare activists, and more has been engrossing in a strange way – the open judgment and analysis of a woman few of us know, but who opted, I say courageously, to share the story of a very personal, invasive, and meaningful series of surgeries that she elected to undergo in an effort to live a longer, healthier life for herself, her partner, and their six young children.
And then I read the comments and think, ‘We have a long way to go.’
Like the comments that joke about her sexuality (or perceived lack of it now), or the comments that denigrate her decision as freakish or unnecessary.
Or the comment that said Jolie should have refused to have the genetic testing for the cancer to which she was predisposed – the cancer that took the life of her beloved mother at a youthful – because not every woman on the planet had access to similar care.
Preposterous, all of it.
The comments about Jolie’s sexuality are the very ugliness that, I think, she tried to address squarely and evenly by saying that she felt no less a woman after her surgery, and that she felt she was less afraid because she had assessed her risks and chosen to take action for a better, longer life. For many women, this is a real fear, and a terribly binding one.
And if Jolie had waited to take care of her own personal health until every woman on the planet could afford it, she likely would be long dead and buried before her time came, and we collectively would gain no benefit, and certainly not the – worldwide health care – from her actions. She does not have the power to create internationally equitable health care funding and coverage. Why should her own children and family (possibly) suffer in waiting for an equality she cannot bring to bear?
Jolie has influence, but influence has its limits. Here she is using her influence in a smart and practical way to show why she made her choice and what worked for her personal health situation while pointedly acknowledging that this is not available to every lack of availability needs to change. But that’s for us all to fix, by mending our broken healthcare system through our elected representatives (whom we elect) and healthcare companies (which we can work to be made more transparent and be held more accountable for its of, unfair pricing, and mistreatments).
She also has inspired others, in the plainest terms, to be tested and proactive about their health. I have been moved seeing the wave of women who have responded in a positive way by saying they will get tested or work to make testing more available, and equally so witnessing the men who have praised her decision and lauded her partner’s commitment to her as well.
Laying a complicated international issue at the feet of extraordinary wish. The supportive reactions I have seen are extraordinary truths.
I commend Jolie, and I wish her a lifetime of continued good health.