Women share stories of life after a double mastectomy

Women share their reasons for having a double mastectomy and how the decision impacted their lives, following Hollywood star Angelina Jolie's revelation she opted for the procedure as a preventive measure.

Angelina Jolie's decision to have breasts removed called 'empowering'

Kelly Davidson tattooed her chest following a double mastectomy to show "my transformation, my metamorphosis." (Kelly Davidson/Facebook)

Hollywood star Angelina Jolie revealed her choice to undergo a preventive double mastectomy in an op-ed piece in the New York Times to inspire other women at risk of breast cancer to get tested and learn about their options.

"It is my hope that they, too, will be able to get gene tested, and that if they have a high risk they, too, will know that they have strong options," Jolie wrote, revealing she is a carrier of a "faulty" BRCA1 gene.

Jolie, ranked among the world's most beautiful people, is being praised for sharing her story.

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"I'm really thrilled that someone like Angelina Jolie, who's the epitome of beauty and sexuality, has decided to come out and really share her experience," Theresa Quick, who underwent a double mastectomy last year, told CBC's Matt Galloway.

Quick and Jolie share the same BRCA1 gene mutation. Jolie's doctors said the gene makes her 87 per cent more likely to develop breast cancer.

Quick's mother, who died following a battle with breast cancer, tested positive for the gene. So, when Quick found out she carried it as well, she decided to undergo breast-removal surgery rather than succumb to a lifetime of intensive cancer screening.

Celebrities with double mastectomies

Angelina Jolie is not the first celebrity to go public with her double mastectomy. Other women in Hollywood have also undergone the surgery:

  • In Sept. 2012, Oscar-winner Kathy Bates tweeted she was recovering after having a double mastectomy.
  • Sharon Osbourne decided to have a preventive double mastectomy after learning she carried a gene making her more likely to develop breast cancer.
  • Christina Applegate, who once starred in Married with Children, reportedly had her first and last nude photo shoot before going in for her double mastectomy.
  • Following Jolie's announcement, CNN anchor Zoraida Sambolin revealed she has been diagnosed with breast cancer and will be having a double mastectomy soon.

"I knew that I couldn't live the life I wanted to lead with this hanging over my head," she said.

Still, Quick recognizes the choice can be difficult and is very personal. She said she experienced some "poor me" moments before the surgery.

"Breasts are a huge part of a woman's sexuality," she said. But, following the procedure, Quick said she still feels attractive and beautiful.

That's why having women like Jolie, who claimed People magazine's most beautiful woman in the world title in 2006, coming forward with their stories is important.

"It's a very empowering message that women are not helpless when faced with a genetic cancer risk," said Dr. Peter Johnson, chief clinical at Cancer Research U.K.

Winnipeg breast-cancer survivor Myla Meyer agreed with Johnson, saying Jolie's celebrity status could help make women's options more clear. Meyer had a double mastectomy last year, during her second bout with the disease.

She is waiting for test results to see if she has the so-called "faulty" gene that causes breast cancer. If she tests positive, Meyer said she will have her 17-year-old daughter tested as well.

If her daughter tests positive, she will recommend her daughter have a double mastectomy.

"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."

Here are the stories of two other women who shared insight on life after double mastectomies.

Breast cancer survivor's chest tattoo pic goes viral

Three-time cancer survivor Kelly Davidson decided to tattoo her chest after having a double mastectomy during her bout with breast cancer.

"The fairy kind of represents me, how I was. And the butterflies that are leaving her hand represent, you know, my cancers that have left," she said. "It's kind of also my transformation, my metamorphosis."

When she posted a picture of the black-and-white fairy releasing butterflies tattooed over her flat chest on the Facebook page Why We Ink, the photo received about 500,000 likes and more than 52,000 comments within days.

'[My fiancé] just tells me that now we can hug a little bit closer.'—Kelly Davidson, had a double mastectomy

She said it was difficult to read some of the negative comments, like individuals accusing her of seeking attention. But, she tried to focus on the positive ones, like from her fiancé at the time.

"He just loves me and adores me for who I am," said Davidson. "He just tells me that now we can hug a little bit closer. So I kind of take that with everybody, that I can hold them a little closer now."

Since Davidson's photo, Why We Ink has shared pictures of two other women who tattooed their chests following double mastectomies.

Swimmer fights for topless dips

Last year, Jodi Jaecks struggled to find a swimsuit to fit her body after her double mastectomy.

"There's absolutely nothing left of my breast tissue. I am a clean slate — very flat chest, with two slightly diagonal scars across it," she said.

Jaecks, an avid athlete and breast cancer survivor, was looking for a bathing suit after someone recommended swimming as a good form of exercise for her. When she couldn't find a swimsuit made for flat-chested women, she decided to fight for the right to swim topless in her local Seattle pool.

"I was wondering why I was actually trying so hard to cover myself when there was nothing there," said Jaecks.

She eventually won the right to swim topless in Seattle-area public pools, but has continued to fight for everyone's right to do so, refusing to be the exception to the rule.

"I don’t feel any shamefulness about having had cancer nor did I through my treatment when I was bald from chemo. I don’t feel self-conscious," she said. "I just think that we could all stand to embrace a greater compassion for our fellow humans and that should entail the great variety of all of our experience."

With files from The Associated Press