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Jolie's Preventative Surgery Jump-Starts Cancer Conversations In Yorktown

Barbara Cervoni of Support Connection, Inc.
Barbara Cervoni of Support Connection, Inc. Photo Credit: Submitted

YORKTOWN HEIGHTS, N.Y. -- Angelina Jolie's recent op-ed article, "Diary of a Surgery," which ran in The New York Times earlier this week has sparked conversations about cancer across Westchester.

And that's a good thing. At least according to Barbara Cervoni, director of services and communication for Yorktown Heights-based Support Connection, Inc ., a not-for-profit organization that provides free, confidential support services and programs to people affected by breast and ovarian cancer.

One in eight American women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in their lifetime. Yet despite tremendous advances, there's still no cure or way to prevent breast cancer. Ovarian cancer occurs less frequently, but nevertheless ranks fifth as the cause of cancer death in women; that’s because there’s no definitive screening test and the symptoms are difficult to detect and diagnose, she explained.

Angelina Jolie's story about her prophylactic surgery for ovarian cancer draws a new kind of attention to two very prevalent and serious diseases. (Jolie had written two years ago about her preventative mastectomy surgery.)

"Many people never heard of BRCA testing before Ms. Jolie brought it to the forefront," said Cervoni, a Bedford Hills resident. "What I also like about what she wrote this time is her emphasis on how personal her decision was. There’s no 'one size fits all answer.' Another woman with the exact same history and test results might make a very different choice, and that’s okay. What’s right for one person may be completely wrong for someone else. These are the kinds of in-depth conversations I hope this story can spark."

There's also a personal component to Cervoni's story as she herself was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. “When Ms. Jolie’s first article came out in 2013, I had mixed feelings about people calling her ‘brave,'" she said. "To me, the women battling breast and ovarian cancer who we see every day at Support Connection were the brave ones. And they still are, for sure.

"But now I’m faced with my own decisions about how to share my cancer story, not just as a woman, but as a professional with a commitment to the other women dealing with this. It’s daunting. I now see Ms. Jolie’s bravery in sharing her personal story so publicly, opening herself to worldwide scrutiny. I give her kudos for that.”

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