Before Angelina: Portraits of Breast Cancer Previvors and Survivors

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In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, TIME photographed 15 women who chose to have preventative double mastectomies after learning they carry the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations, years before Angelina Jolie’s New York Times Op-ed renewed the conversation about the genetic risk factors and surgical decisions. These mutations can increase the risk of breast cancer by up to 80% and the risk of ovarian cancer by 45%, which prompts many women to decide to remove their breasts even before any signs of cancer. Those who test positive for the mutations also have a 50% chance of passing the gene to their children. Here are their stories.

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More Photography from Time

19 comments
MarionShapiroHunter
MarionShapiroHunter

I had no idea that there was a group in Facebook for Prophylactic Mastectomy on Facebook. I don't go on Facebook too often..just knowing that there IS a group there for people like me brings back painful memories of 2007 when I went through my surgery completely alone (my now ex-husband did nothing except for calling me a "cripple" who "mutilated" myself.) I'm alive, and that's the most important reason I did what needed to be done..it's still painful to remember..sorry; have to stop here..

CynthiaBaileyMD
CynthiaBaileyMD

The stories of these women are the game changing shock that's rocked my healthy and full life at the age of 55.  I too had no obvious family history to hint that I might carry the BRCA 1 mutation.  The news came with my breast cancer diagnosis this summer as a double hit.  http://www.drbaileyskincare.com/blog/breast-cancer-awareness-month-hits-home-2013/ As I read this Time article I'm in the middle of the treatment "journey", half through with 4 months of chemo and anticipating the beginning of surgeries I never expected to face.  These women and FORCE have given me hope and direction; competent and committed women who have walked this path before me and who are there to inform and guide me through my personal decision process.  Before my diagnosis I was unaware that FORCE existed, now I am deeply grateful that they do.  

wife2abadge
wife2abadge

I could have written that first story myself. Half of my friends and relatives thought I was brave and the other half thought I was crazy. All I knew was that my mother and grandmother both died before their daughters started school, and I had a toddler. It's been 13 years since my surgery, and I am thankful every day that I have been able to see my daughters grow up.

hisbreastcancer
hisbreastcancer

Beautiful stories and much needed to help educate others. Agree though with the comments, would be nice to expand to women who have chosen not to have breast removed but live with surveillance of breast but have had their ovaries removed- hormonally an even greater challenge. As well, to the men of families with risk, be educated, know if you too are brca+ and make the right choices for yourself and your children. Be aware this can happen to you too. Visit http://hisbreastcancer.org/  HIS Breast Cancer Awareness for more information.

sirsay
sirsay

My wife was diagnosed with breast cancer 6 weeks after receiving the all clear on her latest mammogram. There were a few women on her father's side who had who had breast cancer and some men who had pancreatic cancer. I thank her doctors and geneticist for encouraging her to to be tested for the BRCA gene... she tested positive. My beautiful wife went into have both breasts and ovaries removed and reconstruction all in one day. She endured Chemotherapy and lost her hair... but never her dignity zest for life and love of her family. My wife is now cancer free for 9 years... every day with her is a blessing and I look forward to celebrating our 31st wedding anniversary this March... and many more to come

LindaG/elevatedrisk
LindaG/elevatedrisk

Thanks for this wonderful piece, bringing attention to issues around hereditary breast and ovarian cancer and BRCA mutations.  More publicity and education is great.  However, some people's stories are not included -- in addition to that of women of color and men, as mentioned below, we do not have any stories here from the many BRCA+ women who do not choose to have prophylactic mastectomies to deal with their heightened breast cancer risk.  Many women are doing enhanced, high risk breast surveillance rather than surgery.  I am one of them.  Let's tell all of the stories of the BRCA community, rather than only some of them...

TomInShanghai
TomInShanghai

So, there were/are actually women who KNEW about their genetic situation and had kids anyway?  Selfish breeders!  If you really LOVE kids you ADOPT one (or more) of the MILLIONS no one wants - not make your own with little genetic time-bombs .....

FlorenceLestien
FlorenceLestien

I was 21 when I discovered I had the BRCA gene. I'm now 24 and every 6 months I have to do a check up. But I never regreted it, I prefer live knowing that I have a much higher probability to have breast and ovarian cancer and can do something about it. I know there will be a day I will have to do a mastectomy but meanwhile, I live knowing I did the best I could to prepare for it

BRCAliz
BRCAliz

this is beautiful, and I find myself echoing "EyeAkili's" comments -- as a woman of color BRCA previvor, where are the faces that look like mine? Where are the men who have also undergone surgical removal of breast tissue to save their lives? Where are the photos of the women who made the decision earlier in their 20s? I love this, and it missed a lot that could have been included, too. 


EyeAkili
EyeAkili

Beautiful portraits but very disappointing that there seems to have been no thought to include any women of color. Did I missed the memo that it's been determined this is just a white woman's disease? I can't imagine that drawing from New York, Maryland, Illinois, they couldn't find one to represent. smh

FloridaForce
FloridaForce

Thank you TIME for doing "before Angelina". My beautiful FORCE friends and others help shed light on hereditary cancer. Wow. how gorgeous all are here--we are more than the sum of our parts. 

RYB
RYB

You know what they say about assumptions???
To assume is to make an ass out of you and me

KimRichardsonEmery
KimRichardsonEmery

I didn't know till 20 years after my daughter was born and my sister didn't know until she had cancer! Because of strong and brave women like us, generations in the future can know early. They didn't even have the genetic tests when I had my daughter! Would you not have a child because heart disease runs in your family?

KimRichardsonEmery
KimRichardsonEmery

It's not because we don't try. I am the co-admin. For the Prophylactic Mastectomy group on Facebook. We have very few women if color who ask to join. The ones who are members are very active and happy there. I don't know why more women of color don't join or how to reach them. Would appreciate any ideas you may have : )