Breakthrough Patient Recruitment

: A Woman’s Right to Choose…to Talk Publically About Her Health

A Woman’s Right to Choose…to Talk Publically About Her Health

Managing Editor

Angelina Jolie had a preventive double mastectomy. Maybe you've heard? And maybe you're wondering why we're talking about it so much. Maybe you've filed it away as celebrity news that doesn't apply to you.


I think we should be talking about it. But not because Angelina Jolie is a celebrity. We should be talking about it because she is a woman-a woman who made an excruciatingly difficult decision about her health care. She took control.


Women are often the primary decision makers about health care in their families. They schedule the appointments, they drive their children to their checkups, they make sure their spouses actually go to their appointments. Research suggests that women make 75 percent of all health care purchasing decisions. And often, they take a backseat to all of that. When it comes to health care, women often put themselves last.


Angelina Jolie's very public announcement of a very private decision has sparked a conversation-not just about genetic cancer risks, but also about women being empowered to take control over their health care. One in 10 breast cancer cases is genetic. That number may seem small to you-unless you're one of the 10 percent. And then it's a huge scary number staring you down. So no, a preventive double mastectomy may not be the right choice for every woman. It doesn't matter what some doctor who's never seen you has to say about it. It doesn't matter what your neighbor, or your sister, or your co-worker decided to do. It's your breast, your risk, your family, and your choice. Angelina Jolie hoped that by going public with her choice, she may help other women become aware of a risk they didn't know existed. And she hoped that we would talk about it. And we are.


Every day, women like Angelina Jolie (minus the celebrity) are increasingly taking control over their health care-and choosing to do so publicly as a way to have their voices heard and to spread awareness.   


For example, Kathryn Petrides, a 26-year-old Washington, D.C., resident also recently underwent a double mastectomy and also chose to talk about it publically. She believed that because she was such an outlier (the risk for breast cancer at such a young age is incredibly rare), that she should share her story and encourage women of all ages to "know their bodies" and follow up on something if it doesn't seem right. Kathryn will be talking about her treatments and her experience living with cancer in a series of first-person articles appearing in the Washington Post.


Women face difficult choices about their health and the health of their loved ones every day. We're lucky that we live in a place where women are allowed and encouraged to engage in such conversations. Increasingly, patients and providers alike are turning to Twitter and Facebook to publically talk about health care topics. Moreover, a study in the Journal of Communication last year showed that people who go on the Internet to learn about health information have a more positive outlook on cancer prevention and diagnosis, suggesting the powerful potential of talking about health care on social media sites, including blogs, as a way to help others.  


Words are powerful. When they are said in the right way, to the right person, at just the right time, it can make a significant impact on their lives. Women like Angelina Jolie and Kathryn Petrides are like so many women-women you know and love. Or maybe you see yourself in their stories. I believe that is the shared goal of these two women brave enough to talk about such a personal subject.

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The Healthy(ist) blog is a platform to share, learn about, and debate topics related to public and social health, scientific research, health communications, and behavior change.
We invite and encourage anyone interested in current public health and health communication trends and issues to join MMG's contributing bloggers in adding their voice to the ongoing discussion about how we can advance health, together.


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