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5 Things Angelina Jolie Teaches Us About Cancer

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This past week, I, along with many many others, was quite frankly shocked to hear the breaking news that Angelina Jolie had a preventive double mastectomy upon finding (quoted from her op-ed): "I carry a 'faulty' gene, BRCA1, which sharply increases my risk of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer."

As more details have been revealed, I have reflected on what one of the world's most beautiful and most recognizable women has taught us recently about cancer.

1. It can happen to anyone. Truly no one is immune to the big c; cancer just doesn't care how old, young, rich, or poor you are. It strikes celebrities, and people just like you and me.

2. It impacts all of us. I hear repeatedly the statistic that one in two men and one in three women will face cancer in their life. If it's not impacting you today, it will at some point. I certainly don't share this to strike fear in you. This is simply reality.

3. Looking at the previous two, I say with confidence we all want to prevent it. Just like Angelina so wanted to prevent or at least greatly reduce her risk, I believe we're all interested in how we can prevent cancer. But the question that needs to be raised is, Are we committed to preventing cancer? Here I think not. For if you are interested in something you'll do it when it's convenient I've heard, and if you're committed to something, you'll do it. Period. A quote I love!

We all do things every day that we know raise our risk of cancer (smoking, poor diet, and lack of exercise, to name just a few!). If you are interested in (and committed to!) learning more about how to prevent breast cancer, please check out this resource.

If you are wondering like so many whether you'll face breast cancer some day I came across this interesting tool that says it is "an interactive tool to help estimate a woman's risk of developing breast cancer." This is from the National Cancer Institute.

Also, months before Jolie's news this press release was published stating "three federal agencies including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Department of Labor, and the U.S. Department of the Treasury have issued a set of FAQs clarifying BRCA testing as a preventive service under the provisions of the Affordable Care Act. Importantly, this clarification will allow for BRCA testing to be completed with no patient cost sharing for all non-grandfathered private insurance plans when an asymptomatic woman has a qualifying family history." Another reason to cheer health reform!

4. Support from family and friends during the cancer journey is critical. Angelina's article says, "I am fortunate to have a partner, Brad Pitt, who is so loving and supportive. So to anyone who has a wife or girlfriend going through this, know that you are a very important part of the transition." Those fighting cancer and those supporting them can receive free 1:1 cancer support here. This is another helpful resource I share for young cancer spouses.

5. Finally, finding joy in the journey is essential! Whether you are at stage 1 or stage 4 cancer, all cancers are shocking and terrifying. No one feels joy at diagnosis as I know first-hand from being diagnosed Wednesday, March 24th, 2010. Yet in the paragraph where Angelina talks about Brad, she says, "We managed to find moments to laugh together."

I'm not sure Angelina would have ever had to disclose what she chose to share. What do you think -- she could have kept the secret, right? But, because of her being so willing to share something publicly that's so extremely personal, she has certainly taught many around the world so very much about cancer.

Do you think it's helpful to find joy and laugh where you can during the cancer journey? What can it hurt? I wholeheartedly believe it can and does help!

This is why our theme at "Cancer with JOY" is, "No one is happy they have cancer! But you can have cancer and still be happy!"

I have begun sharing a "Daily Dose of Joy" via Facebook and Twitter. As I said when I announced it, the "Daily Dose of JOY" will bring "Do's & Don'ts, #cancerresources, #cancernews, #cancersupport, jokes and MORE! Please let those you know fighting cancer know about this so we can bring some much-needed JOY into their journey!