Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Angie and Me

ABC Good Morning America photo

I never expected I would ever compare myself to Angelina Jolie. But after reading her Op-ed in the New York Times this morning, I’m feeling some really significant common ground.

Chances are we will both owe our future health (hopefully good health) to preventive medicine.

Jolie stunned the world today with the disclosure that she has spent most of this year undergoing a preventive double mastectomy to combat her high chances of developing breast cancer. A genetic test Jolie chose to take after her mother’s death from ovarian cancer assessed the actress’ risk at 87%.

With such high stakes, she decided to take action before the odds played out against her. No question. No reality show. She just halted her busy schedule as mother, actress, and philanthropist. Three months  of opted surgery may just have added decades to her life. Her odds of getting the disease are now less than 5 %.

My kindred story doesn’t involve genetic testing (which has been reported to have cost Jolie about three thousand dollars). Just yearly check-ups, which most health plans cover.
I left one of those yearly check-ups six years ago, expecting to not have to see the doctor again for a year. Instead, I got a phone call the day after my appointment. “There’s blood in your urine and your liver function is off,” he told me on the phone. “We’ve got to find out why.”

The next day a tumor the size of my fist appeared atop my right kidney on an ultrasound screen. There had been no pain, no bleeding perceptible to the eye (just microscopic blood cells in my urine sample on the day of my physical), and no palpable lump.

An MRI followed. Then a diagnosis: Late Stage Two kidney cancer. Yet, I was fortunate. Within weeks, major surgery removed the tumor and kidney - before the cancer had spread. My lymph nodes were clean.

Every year, at my annual physical, I still tell my doctor how thankful I am that he saved my life.

“Early detection,” my doctor replies. “Prevention is the way to go.”

I still get yearly physicals  - and yearly chest x-rays because of the kidney cancer. It always surprises me when women I know, smart women who have more than adequate health insurance, tell me they do not have "time" for physicals. Some say they are too  busy raising their children, juggling work with parenting, etc. etc. I hope these ladies stop to take a look at how a busy celebrity cleared her globe-trotting schedule for preventive medicine. I don't think she did it to prolong her movie career. More likely, the fear of leaving her children and fiancĂ© without a mother and wife made her find the time to make an informed decision.

 I feel fortunate  that I only have to wonder what might have happened if I didn't start seeing a doctor regularly, in my forties. I'm glad Jolie will  just get  to wonder what might have happened if she didn't choose the preventative medical treatment this year.

I hope more busy women will take the time to detect medical trouble before it's too late to stop it .

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