Winnipeg cancer survivor applauds Angelina Jolie's decision

A Winnipeg breast-cancer survivor is applauding a major celebrity's decision to have a preventive double mastectomy.

Breast-cancer survivor hopes Jolie’s double-mastectomy will shed light on treatment options

Winnipeg breast cancer survivors applaud Angelina Jolie's decision

10 years ago
Duration 1:40
Breast cancer survivors in Winnipeg react to a Hollywood star's public decision to undergo a preventive double mastectomy.

Breast cancer survivors in Winnipeg are applauding a major celebrity’s decision to have a preventive double mastectomy.

Angelina Jolie announced Tuesday she underwent a preventive double mastectomy after learning she carried a gene that made it very likely the 37 year old would get breast cancer.

Jolie’s mother died of ovarian cancer at the age of 56.

Breast cancer in Manitoba

  • 800 women diagnosed yearly in the province.
  • Of those diagnosed, about five per cent are of genetic basis.
  • One per cent have the BRCA1 gene, which Angelina Jolie has.
  • Having the BRCA1 gene increases the risk of cancer to 50-90 per cent.
  • About 60 per cent of women get screened.

Source: Dr. Dhali Dhaliwal, CancerCare Manitoba

"Very proud of her. She's very brave. I get it, absolutely get it," Aimee Horbul of Winnipeg told CBC News on Tuesday.

Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001, Horbul chose to have one breast removed. Six months later, she underwent a preventative mastectomy on the other breast.

"For me, I didn't ever want to be faced with something like that ever again," she said.

Now cancer-free for the past 12 years, Horbul said having her breast removed was the best decision she ever made.

'Let's do it'

Another Winnipegger, Myla Meyer, said Jolie’s decision could help shed light on the options available to women at risk of breast cancer.

Meyer was diagnosed with breast cancer eight years ago. She survived her first round, but had the breast cancer come back seven years later.

The 47-year-old had a double mastectomy last year and was in treatment until doctors had to stop her chemotherapy because she contracted an infection.

Her oncologist told her she should have the breast cancer gene test, the same one that showed Jolie would have an 87 per cent chance of getting breast cancer later in life.

That test is now in the process of being completed.

Meyer said more women need to be made aware of the availability of the gene test.

"If we can darn well tootin’ stop it from happening, like, let’s do it," said Meyer.

"Because after you get it, it’s a lot more difficult battle."

Meyer said if her results come up positive for the "faulty" gene that causes breast cancer, she will have her 17-year-old daughter tested as well. If her daughter is positive, she will recommend a double mastectomy.

Meyer said the gene test is available to women in Manitoba, as is the mastectomy and reconstructive surgery.

Dr. Dhali Dhaliwal of CancerCare Manitoba says testing for the BRCA1 gene is done for a very specific group of women.

"You focus on the groups that have a strong family history, particularly [a] family history of breast cancer at an early age," he said.

Many opt for surgery, genetics counsellor says

Kim Serface, a genetics counsellor in Winnipeg, says she sees about 100 women a year who opt to take the test.

About half of the women she sees who have the gene opt to have a double mastectomy, she said.

Serface said Jolie’s decision to go public is admirable and will hopefully help others understand why some women make the choice to undergo the surgery.

"Their friends have said, you know, ‘Why would you do this? You don’t have cancer,’" she said.

"But, you know, when you’re faced with a very high risk of cancer, and you’ve lost a number of individuals, this seems like the most sane choice for some individuals."

Serface said the decision is a very personal choice and she hopes Jolie’s experience will help women feel more comfortable with whatever choice they have made.