For some reason, the ritual of having cut myself and feeling the pain, maybe feeling alive, feeling some kind of release, it was somehow therapeutic to me.

Angelina Jolie, in an interview with Paula Zahn on June 9th, 2005 on CNN.

She’s at it again. After experiencing the therapeutic release that came with the cutting of her breasts (clinically, bilateral prophylactic mastectomy) for the fear that her breasts might turn cancerous, she’s cutting herself again, this time to remove her ovaries and fallopian tubes (clinically, bilateral prophylactic salpingo-oophorectomy).

Jolie has the “breast cancer gene”. Except there is no such thing. There have been identified a pair of genes, dubbed BRCA 1 and BRCA 2, which when defective, i.e., deleteriously mutated, fail to do their assigned task of DNA repair, thus leading to the likelihood that a strand of DNA might be damaged so that the cell carrying it becomes immortal, i.e., cancerous. Specific mutations of the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 genes that have been proved to be associated with higher breast and ovarian cancers are inherited. For all the hoopla about the magic of genes and how we will one day treat disease by rewriting DNA code, there have been identified very few gene to cancer correlations. The BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 correlation to breast and ovarian cancers represent two of the few.

Even so, having the gene does not guarantee that cancers of the female reproductive organs will arise (though men who have the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 mutation get breast cancer at a higher rate than men without them, the rate is still so low as to be negligible). Having the mutation simply means that the probability of being afflicted with those sorts of cancers is significantly increased. The mutant genes therefore do not “cause” breast and ovarian cancers because if they caused breast and ovarian cancers anyone who had them would get the cancers. These aren’t cystic fibrosis or Huntington’s chorea type genetic malfunctions.

Angelina Jolie’s mom died of ovarian cancer, a tragedy of epic proportions in an age when Google executives and Israeli historians are making claims that eternal life, or at least really long life, is an imminent possibility. Jolie’s female self-emasculation is proof positive that Google executives and Israeli historians are premature in their prognostications. Jolie cut herself out of the fear she might die of a cancer she knows she has a predilection for. If eternal, or even very long life, were reliably around the corner, there would be no worry over getting cancer. Whatever therapy had been devised that prevented the body growing old and dying would also necessarily prevent the body suffering from latent diseases like cancer, else there wouldn’t be much point in the expectation of immortality.

Jolie hopes to eliminate the risk of death by female reproductive organ cancer. Even that’s not possible. She could still get cancer in the parts of her reproductive system that must be left behind. And there’s no guarantee that she won’t get cancer of another type. Or get run over by a bus. Death is inevitable; only its timing is uncertain. Besides all that, she is cutting herself this time for the possibility that an uptick in a metric used to monitor patients susceptible to ovarian cancer indicates she might have the disease. But the National Cancer Institute specifically states on its website that there is no reliable test to determine that metastatic ovarian cancer has developed, excepting actual biopsy of an ovarian tumor.

But once the cutting is through, she will undoubtedly feel as full of life as she did way back when she was young and she not only decided that a cutting was indicated but then performed the procedure herself. She at least has one thing right in all this. Life is pain. Without it, there is very little way of knowing it’s real. And what sort of pain could possibly trouble someone with everything except the chance that it might be lost? She might instead try pinching herself like people who aren’t sure they aren’t dreaming do, but that likely wouldn’t suffice.

For me, I like to take inflict pain by taking a good long run. I really know I’m alive somewhere about the eighth or ninth mile. But to each their own.

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