A few years ago, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. I still remember receiving the devastating phone call, hearing in her voice the fear she felt even as she attempted to conceal it for my benefit, and the way the news hit me in a tangible, physical way as she told me about the lump she’d discovered during a self breast exam.
The days and weeks that followed were difficult at best – for her, especially, but for my sister, my dad, and me as well. After multiple surgeries and several months, my mom was declared cancer free, but urged to undergo chemotherapy and radiation as a precaution again metastasis.
Unconvinced by the lack of evidence that either of these treatments had proven effective for her specific type of cancer, my mother bravely chose to pursue instead diet and lifestyle changes as a means to stay healthy and prevent any reoccurrence of cancer in the future.
This very personal decision based on extensive research conducted by both my mother and my father was met with some interesting opinions. Although one of her doctors supported her choice – and her right to make that choice without judgment – another doctor on my mother’s medical team outwardly and rather unsympathetically expressed his disappointment in her for making a decision with which he adamantly disagreed. In the years since, she has encountered various others who have conveyed their (generally unsolicited) disagreement with the choice she made. Unnecessary and counterproductive to healing, if you ask me.
Following her diagnosis, I remember talking to my mom about the possibility of being tested for the BRCA gene mutations to know if I might have a genetic predisposition to developing breast cancer – which runs in my mother’s family – in the future.
My immediate and clear reaction to the suggestion was NO.
I have absolutely no desire to get tested, as I firmly believe that even if I have the gene mutations shown to correlate with higher incidence of breast cancer, this does not automatically mean I will develop the disease in my lifetime. I strongly believe that the way I eat, the way I think, the convictions I hold, the way I move my body, the relationships I keep, and the way I nourish my soul – among other things – play a significant role in determining whether or not I will ever face breast cancer personally.
Does this mean I absolutely never worry about possibly developing breast cancer one day? No way. The thought enters my mind on occasion and is admittedly fear- and anxiety-provoking at those times. But, for me, the decision not to test is the right one. For now, at least.
When I first read about Angelina Jolie’s decision to undergo a prophylactic double mastectomy after testing positive for the BRCA1 mutation, I was admittedly surprised by her decision to do so. But more than that, I have been absolutely shocked by the often venomous response to her choice by those who believe she made the wrong one, and by the equally ugly counterattack from some of those in support of her decision.
Yes, Jolie is a very public figure, but she is also a woman and a partner and a mother faced with a difficult, heartbreaking decision. And while I acknowledge that there are issues of accessibility and affordability regarding the testing and subsequent surgeries Jolie elected to undergo and that these issues demand further discussion, this woman should not be attacked on account of the painful choice she ultimately made.
I pursued a career in acupuncture and Chinese medicine because I was moved by its belief in your innate capacity to heal and its ability to naturally encourage and stimulate that process in your body. But I also believe it can be beautifully interwoven with western medicine, helping to support those who undergo surgery (including operations like prophylactic mastectomy) or chemotherapy and radiation (in the case of cancer, for example) through their processes of healing – on both a physical and an emotional level.
Acupuncture is all about putting you back in the driver’s seat on your way to optimal health and giving you control over the decisions that guide that journey – and doing so without judgment or ridicule or shame-throwing. It’s about supporting you in your efforts to cultivate health, happiness, and peace –- a process that unfolds differently for each of us.
Do I think Jolie’s choice was somewhat radical? Yes. But I also choose not to pursue genetic testing at all for my own set of very personal reasons, and there are probably those out there who would strongly disagree with the choice I have made. Some who might think I’m being naïve or ignorant in my decision. But, honestly, that doesn’t really bother me.
My mother’s choice – to forgo chemotherapy and radiation – was a choice she made after careful consideration and review of facts. As was Jolie’s. As is mine.
My point is this: You should never be judged or ridiculed or berated for making an informed, personal decision about your health. You should be supported and celebrated and encouraged for your bravery. Even by those who might have taken a different road.
For excellent advice on preventing breast cancer naturally, please see this article: Preventing Breast Cancer: Your 8-Step Personal Action Plan. And check out #6 (Nurture your natural detox systems) and #7 (Stress less, sleep better). Acupuncture and Chinese medicine are pros at helping with both of these.