I woke up this morning at the usual time. I slept on the couch last night. Sometimes, when I’m very, very stressed, when life is getting to be to much and I’m in the midst of a maelstrom, I have to go sleep on the couch. It is smaller, cozy, and the feeling of having the strong vertical back of the couch that I can back up against gives me a feeling of security. Sleeping vulnerable on a flat mattress just doesn’t cut it sometimes. So I was asleep on the couch under a blanket that I crocheted, cozy and warm, and then the alarm on my phone went off for the first time. I heard my son up and about getting ready for school. My waking at this time is his safety net. Once in a while he’ll sleep through his alarm, so I sacrifice an hour of sleep to ensure he has woken up, and then to make sure he didn’t fall asleep on the couch waiting until it was time to walk out the door. Today he was fine and left at seven. I turned on the TV and checked out CNN. They covered the usual big news of the day, but the story that caught me, the one that affected me, was the story about Angelina Jolie. She’s an actress. I’ve seen several of her movies. She’s mashaAllah a beautiful woman, blessed with a loving partner and several children. She’s a philanthropist and this is the role I see her in most. She and her husband, Brad Pitt, really put their money where their mouths are. They have donated money for earthquake relief in Pakistan; they have spread their considerable wealth around and have raised their voices to bring attention to people in need all over the world. I have made du’a for them and had warm thoughts. Now, this morning, we learn that Angelina Jolie had a double mastectomy to help her avoid cancer. Turns out she has a particular gene which is a major marker for a high risk of a particular, aggressive strain of breast cancer, so she had the double mastectomy done in order to hopefully eliminate this risk. Her own mother died of ovarian cancer after a decade of struggle.
I’m sure it was a difficult decision for her. She has traded on her looks for years as part of the Hollywood scene. I think she’s a much deeper person than that and she’s not one of those empty women who have nothing to offer other than cleavage, but her beauty is part of her fame. Anyone who follows the movie world (I don’t, not so much, but even when you’re channel surfing you’ll come across the same stories of famous people again and again) has probably seen the now-iconic photo of her on the red carpet flashing a long long long length of leg. She has been proud of her looks, so I’m sure the idea of losing her breasts was a monumental one. And yet. Probably all she had to do was look at her kids to come to the decision that a live woman minus boobs was better than a dead woman with them. So she had the surgery and had reconstruction as well. She’s about four months post-op now and wrote an article giving the broad outlines of what she went through. I think, for a public figure who is so very private about some things, it was very generous of her to share this with us. She made a conscious decision to do that, to tell the world what she did so that other women would understand that they were not alone. And there are many women who need to hear this.
Part of what made the story so poignant was that on CNN, one of the reporters covering it was Zoraida Sambolin, who shared with the world that she also has cancer and will also be having a double mastectomy. The professional /personal nature of the story really hit me, and I found myself with tears streaming down my face. As real and as difficult as any challenge in the world, this one story about one person is as important as anything on the news. Imagine you are a news anchor reporting about murders, disasters, death singly and in large numbers, all the while faced with your own mortality in a very real way. Sometimes we can’t relate to a big disaster but we can relate to something that happens to someone we know, and we often feel we “know” movie stars or TV personalities since we see them every day.
So, that was how my morning started. I’m sad for Angelina Jolie and Zoraida Sambolin, but I am also very proud of them for doing what is necessary to preserve their lives, and for having the grace to share what is a very traumatic, private event with the world. I pray that Allah guides them to what is best in this world and the next, that they are cured of their illness, and that they are blessed with many more years to raise their families and do good works, Ameen.