Jewish Women Call Angelina Jolie Inspiration for Breast Cancer Surgery

Brings Star Power to BRCA Gene Mutation Fight

Star Power: Breast cancer advocates hailed Angelina Jolie for openly discussing her decision to undergo a double mastectomy.
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Star Power: Breast cancer advocates hailed Angelina Jolie for openly discussing her decision to undergo a double mastectomy.

By Anne Cohen

Published May 15, 2013, issue of May 31, 2013.
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Joanna Rudnick was sitting in bed recovering from undergoing a double mastectomy when she read that Angelina Jolie had undergone the exact same procedure.

The Hollywood superstar shocked the world by revealing that she had decided to have the surgery after testing positive for the BRCA1 gene mutation, which is unusually common among Ashkenazi Jews.

Lisa Schlager
Lisa Schlager

“I had tears in my eyes,” said Rudnick, whose 2008 documentary, “In the Family,” gives an account of her efforts IN dealing with difficult decisions after testing positive for the gene at age 27. “She is going to save so many lives. I’m farklempt.”

Lisa Schlager, an official with FORCE: Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered, an organization that seeks to promote awareness of hereditary cancers, agreed.

“We’re excited that she had the guts to come out with it and that she’s sharing about her experience. This is going to bring the issue out of the closet because people don’t want to talk about hereditary cancer,” she said. “Women feel stigmatized when they’re facing these decisions, and Jolie’s outward exposure is going to make it a little more acceptable and raise awareness about this important issue. “

Schlager and Rudnick, like thousands of Jewish women, have a huge stake in the issue. Ashkenazi Jews are much more likely than the general population to carry the BRCA mutation. The wrenching choice faced by 37-year-old Jolie is therefore much more common among Jewish families than it is in other Americans — and her decision to go public could potentially save many Jewish women’s lives.

Jolie, whose mother died of cancer at age 56, disclosed that doctors had estimated that she had an 87% chance of developing breast cancer and a 50% chance of developing ovarian cancer.

“Once I knew this was my reality, I decided to be proactive and to minimize the risk as much as I could. I made a decision to have a preventive double mastectomy,” she wrote.


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