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.
Only a fraction of breast cancers result from an inherited gene mutation. Those with a defect in BRCA1 have a 65 percent risk of getting it, on average.
Once I knew that this was my reality, I decided to be proactive and to minimize the risk as much I could. I made a decision to have a preventive double mastectomy. I started with the breasts, as my risk of breast cancer is higher than my risk of ovarian cancer, and the surgery is more complex.
On April 27, I finished the three months of medical procedures that the mastectomies involved. During that time I have been able to keep this private and to carry on with my work.
But I am writing about it now because I hope that other women can benefit from my experience. Cancer is still a word that strikes fear into people’s hearts, producing a deep sense of powerlessness. But today it is possible to find out through a blood test whether you are highly susceptible to breast and ovarian cancer, and then take action.
My own process began on Feb. 2 with a procedure known as a “nipple delay,” which rules out disease in the breast ducts behind the nipple and draws extra blood flow to the area. This causes some pain and a lot of bruising, but it increases the chance of saving the nipple.
Two weeks later I had the major surgery, where the breast tissue is removed and temporary fillers are put in place. The operation can take eight hours. You wake up with drain tubes and expanders in your breasts. It does feel like a scene out of a science-fiction film. But days after surgery you can be back to a normal life.
Nine weeks later, the final surgery is completed with the reconstruction of the breasts with an implant. There have been many advances in this procedure in the last few years, and the results can be beautiful.
I wanted to write this to tell other women that the decision to have a mastectomy was not easy. But it is one I am very happy that I made. My chances of developing breast cancer have dropped from 87 percent to under 5 percent. I can tell my children that they don’t need to fear they will lose me to breast cancer.
It is reassuring that they see nothing that makes them uncomfortable. They can see my small scars and that’s it. Everything else is just Mommy, the same as she always was. And they know that I love them and will do anything to be with them as long as I can. On a personal note, I do not feel any less of a woman. I feel empowered that I made a strong choice that in no way diminishes my femininity.
I am fortunate to have a partner, Brad Pitt, who is so loving and supportive. So to anyone who has a wife or girlfriend going through this, know that you are a very important part of the transition. Brad was at the Pink Lotus Breast Center, where I was treated, for every minute of the surgeries. We managed to find moments to laugh together. We knew this was the right thing to do for our family and that it would bring us closer. And it has.
For any woman reading this, I hope it helps you to know you have options. I want to encourage every woman, especially if you have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, to seek out the information and medical experts who can help you through this aspect of your life, and to make your own informed choices.
I acknowledge that there are many wonderful holistic doctors working on alternatives to surgery. My own regimen will be posted in due course on the Web site of the Pink Lotus Breast Center. I hope that this will be helpful to other women.
Breast cancer alone kills some 458,000 people each year, according to the World Health Organization, mainly in low- and middle-income countries. It has got to be a priority to ensure that more women can access gene testing and lifesaving preventive treatment, whatever their means and background, wherever they live. The cost of testing for BRCA1 and BRCA2, at more than $3,000 in the United States, remains an obstacle for many women.
I choose not to keep my story private because there are many women who do not know that they might be living under the shadow of cancer. It is my hope that they, too, will be able to get gene tested, and that if they have a high risk they, too, will know that they have strong options.
Life comes with many challenges. The ones that should not scare us are the ones we can take on and take control of.
Artist Jay Shells channeled his love of hip hop music and his uncanny sign-making skills towards a brand new project: “Rap Quotes.” For this ongoing project, Shells created official-looking street signs quoting famous rap lyrics that shout out specific street corners and locations.
Sample - The Moments (I could have loved you)
Chill beat. Light a jay, listen and pass the time away.
Arizona’s law banning Mexican-American studies curriculum is constitutional, judge rules
March 11, 2013
A court upheld most provisions of an Arizona state law used to prohibit a controversial Mexican-American Studies curriculum in Tucson on Friday.
The ruling dealt a blow to supporters of the suspended classes, who had hoped the courts would overturn a 2010 law championed by Arizona conservatives determined to shut down the unconventional courses.
“I was really surprised at the decision,” Jose Gonzalez, a former teacher of Tucson’s suspended Mexican-American Studies classes, told The Huffington Post. “But as a student and teacher of history, I know in civil rights cases like this there’s always setbacks.”
The experimental Tucson curriculum was offered to students in different forms in some of the local elementary, middle and high schools. It emphasized critical thinking and focused on Mexican-American literature and perspectives. Supporters lauded the program, pointing to increased graduation rates, high student achievement and a state-commissioned independent audit that recommended expanding the classes.
But conservative opponents accused the teachers of encouraging students to adopt left-wing ideas and resent white people, a charge the teachers deny. Aiming squarely at Tucson’s Mexican-American Studies program, the Arizona legislature passed HB 2281 — a law banning courses that promote the overthrow of the U.S. government, foster racial resentment, are designed for students of a particular ethnic group or that advocate ethnic solidarity.
Federal Judge Wallace Tashima said the plaintiffs failed to show the law was too vague, broad or discriminatory, or that it violated students’ first amendment rights.
The news wasn’t all bad for supporters of the suspended classes. Tashima ruled that the section of the law prohibiting courses tailored to serve students of a particular ethnicity was unconstitutional.
Originally filed in October of 2010 on behalf of the program’s former teachers, who lost standing because they are public employees, the case is currently brought by former Mexican-American Studies student Nicholas Dominguez and his mother Margarita Dominguez. They will likely appeal the ruling to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals within the next 30 days, their lawyer Richard Martinez told The Huffington Post.
“This case is not over,” Martinez said. “It’s not only important to Arizona, but to the country as a whole that this statute be addressed.”
Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne began a campaign to eliminate the Mexican-American Studies program from Tucson Unified School District in 2006, when he was serving as the state’s Superintendent of Public Education.
Angered that Mexican-American civil rights leader Dolores Huerta had said that “Republicans hate Latinos” in a speech to Tucson students, Horne sent Deputy Superintendent Margaret Dugan, a Latina Republican, to give an alternate view. But the intellectual exercise turned confrontational when students, who said they were not allowed to ask Dugan questions, sealed their mouths with tape and walked out of the assembly room.
“As superintendent of schools, I have visited over 1,000 schools and I’ve never seen students be disrespectful to a teacher in that way,” Horne said in an interview last year.
The final product of his efforts was House Bill 2281, which then-State Sen. John Huppenthal (R) helped pilot through the Arizona legislature. Huppenthal, who succeeded Horne as state superintendent of schools, then found Tucson out of compliance with the new law and ordered the district to shut Mexican-American Studies down or lose 10 percent of its annual funding — some $14 million over the fiscal year. In January of 2012, the school board complied, voting 4 to 1 to discontinue the classes.
The decision drew national attention as administrators plucked Latino literature that once belonged to the curriculum from classrooms, explicitly banning seven titles from instruction.
Tashima wrote in Friday’s ruling that Horne’s anti-Mexican-American Studies zeal bordered on discrimination.
“This single-minded focus on terminating the MAS (Mexican-American Studies) program, along with Horne’s decision not to issue findings against other ethnic studies programs, is at least suggestive of discriminatory intent,” Tashima wrote.
But the federal judge stopped short of invalidating the law on those grounds.
“Although some aspects of the record may be viewed to spark suspicion that the Latino population has been improperly targeted, on the whole, the evidence indicates that Defendants targeted the MAS program, not Latino students, teachers or community members who participated in the program,” the judge wrote in the ruling.
Not everyone agrees.
Writer and activist Tony Diaz — who along with independent journalist Liana Lopez and multimedia artist Bryan Parras launched a “librotraficante” caravan to “smuggle” books banned from Tucson classrooms into Arizona — said the court had “failed our youth, our culture and freedom of speech” by upholding the Arizona ethnic studies law.
“But we remain inspired by the youth of Tucson, the teachers, the families, the activists who will appeal this unjust ruling and continue the struggle to the Supreme Court,” Diaz said.
Photo: Save Ethnic Studies by Julio Salgado