When actress Angelina Jolie revealed in [a New York Times op-ed] piece earlier this month that she underwent a double mastectomy to prevent breast cancer, I immediately thought of Amy Hefner.
Amy is a Wenatchee native who, like Jolie, lost her own mother to breast cancer, and who later learned she has the same defective BRCA gene that dramatically increased her chances of getting breast and ovarian cancer.
I interviewed Amy nearly five years ago before she underwent the surgery, and followed up with her through [her pre-operation struggles], [her surgery] and [her recovery]. It was a hard decision, a hard surgery, and a hard recovery, and I wondered how she felt about it four and a half years later. I also wondered what she thought about a famous actress doing the same thing she did — coming to the media about a very private medical decision and procedure and telling her story in an effort to raise awareness.
So I shot Amy an email, and she responded she'd be glad to talk about her reaction to Angelina Jolie's news. "I've been teasing that we are practically related. Same genes and all," she wrote.
When we talked, Amy said she was very excited that a celebrity came out and said, basically, the same things she said five years ago.
But she was surprised at all [the backlash] that Jolie got, about whether she made the right decision, and even whether she was doing it for publicity. "Personally, I had nothing but positive responses. Very few people disagreed with it," she said.
She said the decision is best explained in [a cartoon she saw about it]. "It had a man with a bomb strapped to his chest, and someone saying, 'There's only an 87 percent chance of it exploding.' It was a good analogy. It makes it a no-brainer," she said.
Those were the odds that Hefner, and Jolie, faced in one day having breast cancer.
At the time, Amy told me other reasons she was having both of her breasts removed before that day came.
Because of her chances, she said, every time she went in for a mammogram — which is every six months, at least — doctors seemed to find something suspicious that needed more investigation. Then it would be back for a biopsy, more follow-up, and pretty soon time for another mammogram. "I had huge amounts of anxiety, just waiting and wondering, is this going to be the time?"
Like Jolie, Hefner came to the media to tell her story, because she wanted others to understand her decision, and to raise awareness about breast cancer in general.
"I was so worried about myself, and I just felt selfish. I thought, I'm going to make this into something good. People can understand a little more if they can put a face on it," she said.
And today, Amy couldn't be more certain that she made the right decision. "Four years ago, I thought I'd never be able to swim or bike. Last year I was doing a triathlon," she said. "I'm so happy with my decision. There's not a day that I question that it was the right thing for me. I've been able to move on with my life," she added.