The Dawn Chorus

Fresh Australian Feminism

Women We Love: Christina Applegate

Posted by Mel Campbell on August 21, 2008

Breast cancer is one of those illnesses that strikes fear into my heart. Earlier this year I had a breast cancer scare that amounted to nothing; but still, my brush with ultrasounds and mammograms had me pretty damn worried. I’d be shitscared if I actually had to face down death, and lose one of the most socially and psychologically potent symbols of my femininity.

Hearing about famous women’s public breast cancer battles tends to amplify this fear we have – Crikey had an interesting piece about how the rush to cancer-screening programs, particularly among younger women, might even be counterproductive. Perhaps fear is why we often tend to read about famous breast cancer sufferers as “brave” or “courageous”. We want our boobie-cancer patients to seem unafraid, almost to reassure ourselves. But this talk of “bravery” always seems a little patronising to the cancer patient herself.

This is why I love actor Christina Applegate’s honest, no-nonsense approach to her recent diagnosis with breast cancer, and her subsequent decision to remove both her breasts – her exquisite breasts! She recently spoke about her double mastectomy in an interview on Good Morning America:

“My decision, after looking at all the treatment plans that were possibilities for me, the only one that seemed the most logical and the one that was going to work for me was to have a bilateral mastectomy … I didn’t want to go back to the doctors every four months for testing and squishing and everything. I just wanted to kind of be rid of this whole thing for me. This was the choice that I made, and it was a tough one.”

Applegate, 36, had undergone regular breast screening since the age of 30; her mother had the disease and Applegate carries the breast cancer gene, BRCA1. She’ll undergo reconstructive surgery over the next nine months, quipping, “I’m gonna have cute boobs till I’m 90.”

Much of the commentary on Applegate’s interview has focused admiringly on her candour, her levelheadedness and her lack of vanity – Defamer contrasted her calm explanation with the hoo-ha surrounding the possible amputation of Shia LaBeouf’s pinkie finger after his DUI car crash. I also think she’s inspirational. It’s refreshing to see someone in an industry based on artifice be so frank about a human frailty without playing the “brave” card.

I also love that Applegate is setting up a program to make MRI breast scans more affordable for women whose health insurance may not cover them:

Besides me being really vigilant about it, [the MRI] is the number one reason that I’m going to live. If this had been caught a year from now, or when I was 40, I probably wouldn’t be able to live through this, or I would have to undergo such much more than I have. It’s incredibly expensive. So for me, one of the things when this all happened was that I’m putting together a program to pay for MRIs for women who are at high risk – which means women who have had it in their family, or know that they’re gene-positive. We’re also going to pay for the [genetic] testing, because that’s very, very expensive – it’s upwards of $2,000 to $3,000… so all of that is coming together right now.”

Go Christina!

9 Responses to “Women We Love: Christina Applegate”

  1. sim said

    You’re right, it’s so refreshing. To talk publicly about having a double mastectomy, which is one of those “icky” things pretty, young actresses are not “supposed” to talk about, and to do it without a skerrick of self-pity, is incredible.

  2. Clem Bastow said

    Hear hear. Too often we’re fed “I’m now totally fine, I just had a few chemo tablets and Bob’s your uncle!” stories, presumably to spare both the celebrity and the public from the scary/upsetting realities so many cancer patients face.

    That Applegate has been so honest, and yet totally un-melodramatic, is to be commended.

  3. audrey said

    God, what a woman. In the endless bucking against women’s bodies being public property, and the exploitation and objectification of them, and the ***BOOBS!*** ***BOOBS!*** ***BOOBS!*** kind of society we live in where breasts end up being a kind of currency, I tend to forget how much they actually mean to me. The idea of having a double mastectomy, even to avoid cancer, is superficially almost more frightening than the cancer itself.

    I get quite irritated by some of the “celebrate your breasts” campaigns around breast cancer because I end up (probably incorrectly) feeling like they reduce women to their physical attributes – but hearing stories like this does really make me think about how I would cope if I had to make a similar decision.

    Perhaps it’s not so lame-o to ‘celebrate our breasts’ after all.

  4. Clem Bastow said

    Did anyone read that story in Vogue a few months back about a woman with a high genetic predisposition to breast cancer (I think her mother, aunt and sister had been diagnosed) who decided to have a preemptive double mastectomy? It was such a powerful, impressive piece.

  5. audrey said

    Yeah, I read that article. Was it the extract from Jessica Quellor’s book Pretty Is What Changes?

    Meanwhile, this guy is annoying. I accept that maybe his science is right – but seriously dude, fuck off with the trying to paint Applegate as ignorant and ‘sadly misinformed’.

  6. sim said

    Ummm, Audrey? that was a Scientology blog. These guys think that mental illness can be cured with vitamins.

    This is what he would have told her to do:

    • Lots of vitamin D and natural sunshine.
    • Regular exercise.
    • Daily intake of anti-cancer foods (sprouts, raw cruciferous vegetable juice, etc.)
    • Daily intake of superfoods (berries, garlic, turmeric, cacao, goji berries, etc.)
    • Daily intake of anti-cancer herbs (Cat’s Claw, green tea, etc.)
    • Daily intake of additional anti-cancer supplements (pomegranate, zinc, resveratrol, etc.)
    • Complete avoidance of toxic chemicals in personal care products (shampoo, cosmetics, skin lotions, etc.)

    I wish that this science were true … !

  7. sim said

    PS WTF is with some of these “this is what feminism looks like” photos? I think some of them were inaccurately filed; surely they’re the narcissism photos?

  8. mscate said

    it’s powerful as so many women put their appearance before their health, to have a masectomy is to really put living first.

  9. audrey said

    Sim, when I said I accepted maybe the science was right what I really meant was that I can’t quite discount natural remedies over conventional methods ;)

    I certainly don’t think sunshine is going to cure cancer..

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