I Have No Thoughts on Angelina Jolie and her Breast Cancer

I opened my inbox today and found a note from my favorite teacher. I was all at once excited. We have a pretty decent bond and have managed to keep in touch, even though I have not been under his tutelage in seventeen years. I tore into his message, which read this in part:

Howdy? Planning to do something with issues arising from Angelina Jolie’s story? Also, what’s it with grown men abducting and keeping young women in captivity for decades – surely you’ll have an interesting angle to provoke some real thinking and action among the outraged … as in loud proclamations of outrage are not enough. Both offer a bigger and more useful set of issues on which to expend your ever sharpening talent than indulging the soft porn desires of Adventures readers methinks…

He then invited me to get angry with him if I wanted for being “judgmental” and ended on a softer note by saying he missed Abena Gyekye (but only a bit). In times past, this sort of criticism might have cut into my soul like a blade set ablaze – but I have just come through a weekend spent camping with my two oldest children and 100 other squealing first graders in the woods for Mother’s Day. I am unbreakable.

At his behest, I went to read up on Angelina Jolie and her choice to have a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery  – a ‘luxury’ most people who suffer from breast cancer will never dream of enjoying. Women with breast cancer in lower income and developing nations will most likely expire once the disease has run its course. Those are just the facts, and this has everything to do with access to not only medical care, but the availability of such. In my (half) native Ghana for instance, there are six oncologists to serve a population of 22 million in the entire country.


You don’t have to be an authority in mathematics or economics to see immediately that demand far outweighs supply and to forecast what the trickle down issues are when you have SIX oncologists with the mandate of caring for an entire nation. We’re lucky in Ghana though, aren’t we? How many oncologist live and work in the DR Congo?

I read Angelina’s op-ed piece and had no thoughts. I don’t like Angelina Jolie. (I have never forgiven her for the Brad Pitt, Jennifer Anniston thing 8 or 9 years ago. How that affects me and the pot I cook my rice in, I have not discovered yet, but there it is.)

Breast cancer runs in my family. So do ovarian fibroids. I have had several cousin, aunts, a grandmother and a mother all have their innards cut out and discarded in an effort to save or extend their lives. In some cases it worked, and it others it didn’t. God rest those who lost their fight against a disease which kept their cells replicating under it eventually killed them.

If it sounds as though I am glib about the subject, it’s because I am. There is something else that runs in my family that I fear far more than cancer. Only the earliest readers of my blog know about it because I don’t discuss it often. The disease I dread more than any other is mental illness – and like cancer, it’s generational and hereditary.

This Mother’s Day, I spent a great deal of grey matter devoted to the memory of my mother. She’s not dead – don’t worry. But I haven’t spoken to her in years. I think she’s bipolar, but she refuses to get her head examined. She thinks she’s perfect. My mother and I stopped getting along right when she hit menopause and I hot puberty. In my younger years, I just attributed our furious bouts to a clash of hormones. But as I got older and learned to lock myself in a room or not come home at all until I learned to cage my raging emotions so as not to clash with her, I saw that she was not getting any better. My mother was just irrational. It was unbearable. It ruined a good portion of my life. When I had the choice and the chance to disassociate myself from her, I took it without hesitation. I thought we had a bad mother-daughter relationship, and that was the end of that… until I began to hear whispers from my extended family.

“You know why your Momma is crazy and your Aunt Jane ain’t, right? It’s because she wasn’t your grandmomma’s daughter.”

“Your Grandma and her mom didn’t get along either. I once watched your great-grand mother beat her daughter until blood came out of her ears for going to watch a movie. Mistaken identity you see…”

“Lawd, your mom walks to the beat of her own drum. You know mental illness runs in your side of the family, right? You should get that checked out.”

No, Auntie So-and-So; I did not know that. Thank you for delivering the news with such finesse.

photo(10) As my elders calculate it, I have four and a half more years before I go stark, raving mad. I’ll be 40 and Nadjah will  be 13… just entering puberty.

And the insanity will start all over again.

And I’m not sure what to do about it.

And that scares me.