Angelina Jolie has been in the news recently for choosing to have a double mastectomy, even though she does not have breast cancer. She does, however, have the BRCA gene mutation which could lead to breast cancer, and although a voluntary double mastectomy is a radical choice, it’s also a reasonable one.
This is not an abstract issue for Jolie: her mother died of the disease at age 56, and the odds of her getting it are very high. The decision is not an easy one, and I think it’s fair to say that any woman would require a large amount of fortitude to make it. When that woman is also known for her physical appearance, the choice becomes even more challenging. The word “brave” gets thrown around a little too easily these days, but I’d say her choice to voluntarily surgically remove her breasts qualifies.
Singer Melissa Etheridge isn’t having any of that “brave” talk, however.
Etheridge, also a breast cancer survivor, said the decision was “fearful,” not brave, as if those things are somehow exclusive of each other. The brave person is often bravest in the face of fear. Fear brings bravery to the surface. It’s actually a fairly integral part of the idea of bravery. Fear is the prompt: bravery is the response.
If all Etheridge was doing was offering a bit of semantic hair-splitting, I wouldn’t really bother with a post. However, she followed up her comments with this bit of looniness:
“My belief is that cancer comes from inside you and so much of it has to do with the environment of your body. It’s the stress that will turn that gene on or not. Plenty of people have the gene mutation and everything but it never comes to cancer so I would say to anybody faced with that, that choice is way down the line on the spectrum of what you can do and to really consider the advancements we’ve made in things like nutrition and stress levels.”
“I’ve been cancer free for nine years now and looking back, I completely understand why I got cancer,” Etheridge told the Washington Blade. “There was so much acidity in everything. I really encourage people to go a lot longer and further before coming to that conclusion.”
I don’t even know what that means. Well, yes, cancer does indeed come from “inside you,” which of course means it has something to do with “the environment of your body.”
But the cause of cancer is really stress, nutrition, and acidity?
And a person with a very high genetic pre-disposition to cancer can turn the gene off if they just chill out and eat right?
That’s her alternative?
I happen to have one of those genetic diseases that mysteriously turns itself on. Other members of my family have the disease as well, so it’s quite obviously, somehow, hereditary.
There’s mounting evidence that, at least in the case of autoimmune diseases such as mine, the disease is activated by a virus. The culprit in some inherited diseases may in fact be a retrovirus entwined in the DNA, and activated by an infection which weakens the proteins wrapped around those particular strands.
I’m not saying this explains why some people with BRCA get breast cancer and others don’t. We are, however, making incredible progress in understanding the mechanisms of disease and their roots in genetics. Until such time as we have firm answers, it’s dangerous and irresponsible to advise people with a high likelihood of certain cancers to pursue unproven alternative therapies. Etheridge is offering nothing more than New Age Christian Science.
Yes, healthy living and a stress-free life are good for us. This is not news. That these things can also effectively stave off an almost certain death-sentence from an aggressive form of cancer is just quackery.
Etheridge’s outburst is just the tip of the iceberg: all over the internet natural health militants are condemning Jolie’s decision and characterizing her as little more than a shill for something called “The Cancer Industry.” This kind of garbage is being widely promoted on the internet by howling loons who also think watching out for “sunlight exposure” can prevent breast cancer, and they’re only too glad to sell you a set of CDs explaining their junk science.
The worst part is that women, already facing a horrible decision, may take Etheridge’s words to heart and opt for alternative treatments that are only proven worthless after it’s too late.