“Angelina Jolie has made a legitimate choice, but the real question remains the search for the cure”

Breast Cancer Consortium member Grazia De Michele is an Italian-born researcher and historian currently living in the United Kingdom. Her doctoral thesis, “‘At the gates of civilization’: Southern children in Turin primary school from the 1950s-1970s,” analyzes the social construction of Southern migrants’ children during the post-war period. Grazia was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 30, during the final year of her doctoral work. She had no family history of the disease or genetic predisposition. As an historian she is skilled in analyzing dominant discourses. Following her experience with breast cancer, Grazia is particularly committed to unraveling those surrounding the disease. In May 2011 Grazia started the Italian blog Le Amazzoni Furiose (The Furious Amazons) to raise awareness among Italian women about the need to change the conversation on breast cancer and promote research into the systemic issues contributing to the epidemic. She also contributes regularly to the twitter hashtag #BCSM – breast cancer social media. Grazia De Michele finished her PhD in August 2012.

Grazia was interviewed in  il Fatto Quotidiano.it (Italy), “Angelina Jolie ha fatto scelta legittima, ma il vero nodo rimane la ricerca sulle cure.” Here is the English translation.

Il Fatto Quotidiano Logo“Angelina Jolie has made a legitimate choice, but the real question remains the search for the cure”

of  | 16 May 2013

L’Amazzone Furiosa, author of a popular blog, diagnosed with cancer at 30 and critic of “the trumpeted fable of early diagnosis”, asks: “What should women with a high genetic risk do? Maybe we should all amputate our breasts as a preventive measure?”

“Angelina Jolie has made a personal and legitimate decision. I would like her to take up the Breast Cancer Action call asking her to oppose the patents on BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes held by Myriad Genetics, which are associated with breast cancer. The existence of patent royalties means that the genetic test costs more than $3000, and remains unavailable for many women who cannot afford it.”

These are the comments of l’Ammazzone Furiosa, author of a popular blog, and one of the first women in Italy to bring forward the breast cancer advocacy movement focused on uncovering the environmental causes of the disease and denouncing corporate profiteering. “Breast Cancer Action has rallied outside the Supreme Court and mounted a legal challenge against Myriad Genetics, a company which not only imposes high payments for their genetic tests, but also hinders scientific research on BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, which cannot be conducted without infringing their patents.”

The battle against Myriad Genetics is one among many fought on the breast cancer front. “The main problem—says l’Ammazzone, who was diagnosed with cancer at 30 without having familial or genetic risks—is the search for the cure. Angelina Jolie’s decision shows a big truth: breast cancer still is a frightening disease and many women prefer to have their breasts removed rather than live with the risk. I would like to remind everyone that breast cancer hits 31,000 women each year in Italy, and 11,000 die from the disease. What should women without a high genetic risk do? What about those with a moderate genetic risk? Maybe we should all amputate our breasts as a preventive measure? I don’t think that’s a solution.

What Jolie’ story tells us is that what some oncologists say, suggesting that nowadays breast cancer is like a cold,  is not true. It’s a horrible disease that terrifies those who don’t have it and scars forever those who did. That’s why we need a real cure and prevention.

L’Amazzone criticises the “much trumpeted tale of early diagnosis.” “Screening is a good thing,” she says, “but we can’t believe the words of Umberto Veronesi, who recently said that with very early diagnosis the probabilities of being cured is 98 percent. It’s still claimed that tumor size is the most important prognosis factor, but there are small, very aggressive tumors that spread quickly and do not respond to current treatments. On the other hand, there are also  tumors that do not spread. This was explained very clearly by Peggy Orenstein, activist and journalist, in a recent article in The New York Times.”

Another question to shed light on about breast cancer is the business built around it. Products and initiatives of dubious benefit to cancer research are advertised in fundraising campaigns, disguised in pink, a practice many women find demeaning. “I remember when my sister, shortly after my diagnosis, went to the Race for the Cure in Naples, a charity race for women with breast cancer. She came back from the event with shampoo, shower gel and tampons. Too bad that many women who have had cancer do not menstruate anymore because of hormone treatment or chemotherapy side effects. One of the main Race for the Cure sponsors last year was Mocio Vileda. This year it is Perlana, a laundry detergent company, which launched a marketing campaign that included Facebook. As Barbara Brenner, activist and Breast Cancer Action president for 15 years, who sadly passed away a few days ago, used to say: “If shopping could cure breast cancer, it would be cured by now.”

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