Why did the Oscar-winning actress have to choose that day of all days to announce to the world that she had undergone a preventive double mastectomy? The same day I was to find out if I had cancer.
I was doing just fine up until that point and largely successful in blocking out my uncertain fate. Denial may not be a river in Egypt, but it floated my boat when it came to dealing with the complexities of cancer. There’s a thin veneer between the dream and the reality and that suited me just fine too.
So I was rather hoping for a quiet news day complete with tales of hapless celebrities and Met Office warnings in preparation for what lay ahead. Instead I was faced with wall to wall women’s groups, medical experts, survivors and the ridiculously capable Angelina Jolie. It did little to settle the fragile mind.
Every journey matters they say and the desultory outing to the Royal London Hospital for my results proved no exception. Those halcyon days of last summer, blithely unaware of agitated months ahead routinely consumed with consultation rooms, operating tables, jabs, electrocautery, stitches and a charming plastic surgeon called Ahmed.
Dizzied by the visceral news images of earlier, I paused before sauntering up to the second floor and hastily tapped into my Google app: ‘New York Times Angelina Jolie’. If this woman really had anything to offer, now was the time as I was running out of it. My appointment with Doctor Destiny was in 22-minutes. Slumped on the cold, hard, clinical steps of a London hospital stairwell I read Angelina Jolie’s words. And then I read them again.
And so it was that I came to be perched across the desk from a bespectacled gent in a white coat: “We got it all. You’re cancer free”, he said. I gulped long and hard. He took my hand: “Breathe … please” he urged, staring at me anxiously. I did. It felt good. Better than it had in some time.
Formalities over with he handed me a business card. “Call her anytime”, he said. “She is a specialist who helps people affected by cancer.” I laughed childishly still aglow with relief. “Maybe they should just read today’s New York Times,” I muttered. The doc glared at me quizzically.
I’m not sure that there is a discernible point to this story, except to say that there are some women who make things better and yesterday, for me, Angelina Jolie was one of them. Her circumstances, profile and courage will go far in helping others around the world and raising awareness of this awful disease.
I’ve always thought there was something of the unreal about Angie, but Brad aside, she really has done something quite extraordinary. “I chose not to keep my story private”, she wrote in the New York Times, “Because there are many women who do not know that they might be living under the shadow of cancer.”
I am not comparing like with like; the astonishing bravery of a heroine from Hollywood versus the coward from the colonies. No two stories are the same when it comes to cancer, whatever form it may take, whereever it may strike, whatever the results.
Either way, the much derided NHS may have just saved me. And my leg.
But Angelina Jolie played her part too.
A version of this article was republished by Channel 4 News