Montreal woman with double mastectomy praises Jolie

Two Montreal women who had a double mastectomy share their experiences in the wake of Angelina Jolie's disclosure.

Montreal activist calls for more breast cancer-gene testing

Angelina Jolie revealed she had a double mastectomy as a preventative measure against breast cancer. (Carlo Allegri/AP)

"I’m very glad I advocated for myself," said Virginia Champoux, a 42-year-old Montreal mother who, like Angelina Jolie, had a double mastectomy to battle breast cancer.

Unlike the Hollywood actress, Virginia Champoux was not eligible for a preventive mastectomy. "There’s certain criteria that you have to meet, and me having a gut feeling didn’t qualify."

Champoux’s mother, grandmother, aunts and cousins all had breast cancer. But in her 30s, she tested negative for the hereditary BRCA1 gene.

Champoux had to wait until she was diagnosed with cancer before she could get the operation.

"I always, always had promised that if I was diagnosed with breast cancer I would not make two bones about it and would remove my breasts."

At first Champoux’s doctors recommended a lumpectomy, a procedure that takes out the cancerous part without removing the breast. The initial diagnosis said her cancer was stage-one.

After three days of arguing with her doctors, Champoux brought the surgeon around to her position and he agreed to the removal of both of her breasts.

"It turned out to be a blessing ‘cause, ah, three months later when the pathology came back, it was in fact a much more aggressive — stage-three breast cancer."

"More power to her"

These days, Champoux blogs about her experience and she has praise for Jolie for speaking out.

She’s envious of Jolie’s privacy during her treatment.

"She was able to do it privately. I mean I couldn’t hide it. I had to go everywhere with drains. For Passover, I had drains at the seder table. It wasn’t a pleasant experience and more power to her for coming right out and talking about it."

Champoux also would like preventive mastectomy to be more readily available.

"You know we don’t have access to this option here unless you meet all the criteria. And with operating times and everything, the wait is very long. But I think this is an option that has to be offered to more patients now."

The executive director of Breast Cancer Action Montreal, Rosanne Cohen is a cancer survivor.

Her family also has a disposition to breast cancer. Cohen didn’t get tested for the BRCA1 gene. She says it wasn't in her temperment.

But when cancer was detected in her breast, "I had a seven-year-old child, and all I could think about, of course, was being around for him, and I opted for the double mastectomy route."

Cohen wishes it was easier to get gene testing. "One of the things we’ve heard at Breast Cancer Action Montreal is women who are very concerned that they have the gene, they may have a sister or a mother… and although they are quite adamant about the request for gene testing, they’re not being given it."

"It’s not a black and white decision"

Oncologist and research chair Dr. Michael Pollak says women can be easily tested at a clinic at McGill University that deals with people with a genetic disposition for breast cancer and the tests are covered by the province’s medicare program.

The decision to undergo surgery is "a personal choice. It is done jointly with the patient. It’s not a black and white decision."

Pollak goes on "two patients with the same amount of risk (of getting breast cancer) may make a different decision."

Pollak was asked by CBC’s Daybreak host Mike Finnerty if Angelina Jolie made the right choice.

"You’re trying to simplify a complicated decision," he says. "If she was happy with that decision, than I think she did."      

Angelina Jolie recently underwent a preventative double mastectomy. Tell us how far you would go to #FightCancer.