Angelina Jolie, the Cancer Gene and My Friend

Twyla Gray Cropped

Judge Twyla Gray

Judge Twyla Gray sat opposite me twirling her fork in the salad on her plate. 

She had just told me that she was going to have a prophylactic double mastectomy. Twyla, who was a cancer survivor, had learned that she carried the brca gene. This gene predisposed her to breast cancer.

It had been decades since Twyla went through a lumpectomy, chemo and then radiation to treat a small cancer doctors found in one of her breasts. At the time she was diagnosed, Twyla put her considerable wits to researching her cancer and interviewing treatment specialists all around the country. She had a small child and she wanted to live.

I remember quite clearly her husband reading the summary of a pathologist’s report concerning that cancer to me. It was an aggressive form of the disease, and the pathologist’s advice was that she needed aggressive treatment. Afterwards, I talked to a doctor friend of mine who told me that based on her experience with patients, a cancer of that type would eventually come back, no matter what Twyla did.

More than 20 years later, Twyla seemed to have proven the experts wrong. Test after test, check-up after check-up, she was cancer free. Her child grew up to be a fine person. Her marriage thrived. Her career took off and she ended up a district judge.

Everything was looking good for Twyla.

Then she had genetic testing and learned she had the brca gene. She would always be vulnerable to this type of cancer, which is what led her to make the appointment for what she had dreaded for a long, long time: Mutilating surgery.

I asked her how she was a few weeks later and learned that she had backed out of the surgery. Then, a few months after that, the cancer recurred. She beat it back.

Again.

Another year passed, and it recurred.

Again.

There was no beating it back this time. She would die of this disease. The docs gave her three months, but she fought and won a small, though costly, reprieve. Twyla lived another year after she got the three month prognosis. Some of that time was good time. But she earned those good days by enduring horrible treatments.

I have wondered if it would have made any difference if she had gone ahead with that surgery. In truth, I do not know. But part of me doubts it. I think that the time bomb had been ticking away in the form of an occult cancer cell hiding in a corner of her body for all those years she was “cancer free.”

That’s the purgatory of cancer. No matter how many times a cancer survivor gets a clean scan, they know, and everyone who loves them knows, that it may not be entirely true. The cancer may be playing its little waiting game before it comes charging back.

Angelina jolie

Angelina Jolie’s Appearance is Critical to Her Career

I read week before last about Angelina Jolie’s decision to have a prophylactic double mastectomy. From what I read, it sounds as if Ms Jolie has the same gene my friend had. She has not had cancer, so maybe, just maybe, the surgery will save her.

All I know is that I am grateful to her for coming forward with the revelation that she has gone through this surgery. That can’t have been easy for a woman whose appearance and body are critiqued mercilessly every time she puts her foot outside her door.

Ms Jolie makes her living at least partly on the fantasies her audience has about her and her appearance. Prophylactic double mastectomies don’t quite fit with the sexy macho woman she plays in film. That kind of reality is part of our vulnerable human condition, not the cartoon character perfection of the characters she often plays.

It was a risk for her to share this. But it may encourage some other person (men can die of breast cancer, too, especially if they carry the brca gene) who gets the frightening news that they carry this gene the push they need to go under the knife for what can only be described as terrible surgery.

I want to add that the genetic testing to uncover this gene is expensive. Because of that, most people will not take the test. But if you have a history of cancer in your family, as Twyla did, especially if you have a history of breast cancer, it might be worth looking into.

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Size Matters: For Some Humans, Size is a Death Sentence

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When does life begin? Back when I was pro choice, I used to field that question in debates all the time. 

I knew that the people asking the question meant human life. When does human life begin? 

The answer is no use to us in the besetting questions of our age. Life, human life, doesn’t begin. We pass it from one to another like a baton in a relay race. 

The reason for this largely useless answer is that the question itself is poorly worded. We don’t really mean When does life begin? What the questioners were trying to ask was, When does human life that we owe legal protection begin?

Unfortunately, even that question begs the underlying issue. Individual human life, with all its complexities, begins at conception. This is not theology. It is simple and obvious science. A human conceptus is a unique, perfect human being. So is a human embryo. 

I was a human embryo. I do not mean that I was the makings of something that would become me. I, myself, was a human embryo. I was just as much me then as I was me when I was a six month unborn baby and when I was a 5-year-old kindergartner and now that I am a rambling, writing, mom, state legislator and all-around trouble maker. 

I was always me at each one of these stages of my life. Life is something we pass from one another like a baton in a relay race. But our lives, our individual existences as persons, begins at conception. 

You were an embryo, too, you know. In fact, you still are that embryo, only in another stage of life. Your life began at conception. Your earthly life will end at your death. But you will go on after that, and then, as now, you will always be you. 

A reader who seems intransigent in his advocacy for killing little humans ranging from unborn late-term abortion victims back to the earliest conceptus, commented “I just can’t get worked up about microscopic embryos.”

Is that the reason so many people are willing to denude human beings of their humanity early on in their lives? Is it a matter of size? 

Embs

It is important to remember that calling someone an “embryo” is an entirely arbitrary designation that people created for convenience. As it is used in practice the designation of this stage of a person’s life lasts from shortly after conception up to about 8 weeks. The person is, admittedly, tiny during this whole time, but they aren’t always microscopic. The question still remains: Would their lives matter more if they were the size of dinner plates? 

I’m being a bit facetious here to make a point. Size shouldn’t be a death sentence. But when we begin to deny the obvious fact that these are human lives we are taking, we find ourselves in the conundrum of defining what makes the rest of us safe from the long knives of science. 

The same science that gives you central heat and air can snuff you out like the flame on a match. The only thing holding it back is law. 

The legal barriers we erect around human life are our only protection from the rapacious disregard for human beings that sits at the base of every godless philosophy. Science itself is neutral on the issues of God and morality. It is not inherently moral or immoral. It is, rather, amoral. 

Our safety and security rests, not in the self-defined great minds of scientists, but in the little minds of politicians. It is politicians who have kept us from destroying every bit of life on this planet with the scientist’s great gift of nuclear weapons. It is politicians who erect the walls of legal safety behind which we hide against the darker impulses of those who have no regard for us at all. Politicians and the laws they write are the method we have for keeping the monsters beside us at bay. 

Make no mistake about it, science has acquired the power to be a death-dealing monster that can destroy us all. 

Are human embryos human beings? Of course they are. There isn’t any question about that. The question is, do we think we are capable of creating, exploiting and killing whole classes of human beings and not letting this death-dealing disregard for human life spread to the rest of us? The answer for any thinking person who has the least knowledge of human history is, no. 

Once the law allows one group of people to kill other groups of people for any reason they chose, the gun is loaded, cocked and pointing at the rest of us, as well.

We already kill human beings throughout their pre-born life. We kill them because they are disabled. We kill them because they are “unwanted.” We kill them because they — unlike us, we seem to say — are going to die soon anyway. 

Is that the new value on human life? To have a right to life, do you have to be “wanted,” or physically perfect, or not be going to die?

By that logic, there is no person on this planet who has a right to life. 

Do you realize that? By the logic we apply to embryos, who are killed because they are too small to have a right to life, and for all unborn babies, who are killed because they are unwanted-disabled-going-to-die-anyway there is no person on this planet who has a right to life. 

Is that exaggeration? I think not. The agitation for euthanasia is growing. Already several nations and a few of our states have taken down the wall to killing people who are a burden to others, in pain, mentally ill, depressed, etc. They pass these laws under the guise of — you guessed it — they will be dead soon, anyway. We’ll just kill the terminally ill, they claim. Nobody will die except those who volunteer for death, they tell us. 

But as soon as these laws pass, the criteria begins to broaden, and soon people are being euthanized without their knowledge, for all sorts of reasons. 

Why? Because if any group of people may be legally killed for reasons of their murderer’s devising, then all our lives are forfeit. 

The selling of death by those who want to kill has become slightly more subtle than it times past, but the underlying message is the same. 

Euthanasia Propaganda, Then

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And Now.

Death with dignity hbo euthanasia promo

It’s only a small over-simplification to say that all these people at the vulnerable stages of life are dying because of money. Those who kill human embryos to harvest their body parts promise us miracles in a test tube that will give us cures for every dread disease. But what they are really about is massive amounts of government funding. Unborn children die because abortion is marketed by those who make money off it. They die because we would rather become murderers of our own children than write laws that protect women’s ability to have children and hold jobs, get educations and walk the streets without fear of rape. We kill the infirm, the depressed and the elderly, so they won’t be a “burden” on our health care industry. 

We kill for money. We lie and twist the facts to claim that we are killing them for kindness’ sake. But in truth we have done away with the legal protections of the basic right to life of whole classes of people largely for money. 

Does size matter? In the case of human embryos, size is a death sentence. But for other people we kill, it is just a matter of getting rid of what bothers us. 

I haven’t mentioned theology or even morality as a reason for not killing whole classes of people with impunity. I don’t need to. There is an entirely secular reason for granting a universal right to life to all human beings at every stage of our earthly existence. That reason is self-preservation. 

Unless you are one of the gods of our little earthly universe — one of the powerful, the wealthy, the “decision makers” who live in shadowy enclaves inside super zip codes and pull the strings on the rest of us — unless you are one of them, you need this wall of law to protect you. 


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