I’d have done what Jolie did: cancer survivor

I'd have done what Jolie did: cancer survivor
With the internet abuzz with news of Angelina Jolie's double mastectomy, The Local speaks with a Swedish breast cancer survivor about the lose-lose equation she faced when she pondered removing her breasts.

“When you have cancer, there really aren’t any benefits, all you can do is start weighing one set of drawbacks against another,” says Maria, 47, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007.

She faced a similar scenario to Angelina Jolie’s – their mothers had both suffered from breast cancer. Jolie spoke out on Tuesday in an article in the New York Times about the death of her mother. She went on to explain that she subsequently found out she carried the cancer gene, and decided to remove both breasts in preventative mastectomy surgery.

The Swedish Cancer Fund (Cancerfonden) welcomed Jolie’s decision to go public, because celebrities could increase public awareness.

Nurse Britta Hedefalk also recognized the need to talk about cancer from her contacts with patients in Sweden.

“A lot of people tell us that talking about their disease gives their illness meaning,” said Hedefalk, who has answered patients’ queries about cancer for over two decades.

“They feel that if they reach out and help someone, getting cancer was not for nothing,” she told The Local.

READ ALSO: Why some celebrities may feel under pressure to speak out about their cancer

Because Maria’s mother had also had breast cancer, her doctors at the Karolinska hospital in Stockholm sent her off to have genetic testing done. If the tests were to come back positive, Maria would run a higher risk of falling ill again once her treatment had ended.

“Being ill, you have to make decisions that you’d never ever thought you had to make,” she said.

“It’s like you’re staring at scales, with the pans on either side laden with drawbacks. You’ve just gotta see which way the scales tip, which pans have the heaviest drawbacks.”

As she awaited the results, it became increasingly clear what her choice would be if the test showed she had indeed inherited a cancer gene.

“Instead of walking around consumed by worry, a mastectomy is preferable,” Maria said.

“It’s was obvious to me.”

Living in Sweden, where taxes pay for treatment and where there is high-level medical expertise, Maria felt she would get the best breast reconstruction available.

“I knew I would risk losing sensation in my breasts, but I preferred it to getting cancer again,” she said.

The test came back negative.

Recalling the long wait, however, Maria says she also learned to look on the bright side.

“I even toyed with the idea of getting slightly bigger breasts,” she says with a laugh.

“I like my breasts, they’ve been with my faithfully since my teens, but if I was going to have to go through an operation I thought, ‘Why not?'”

Ann Törnkvist

Follow Ann on Twitter here

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