The enthusiastic response to Angelina Jolie’s New York Times account of how she’s dealing with a mutation in the BRCA1 gene illustrates the power of an authentic story. (And okay, it also says something about the power of Angelina.) But among the hundreds of comments she received thanking her for sharing her story and highlighting the importance of breast cancer screening, another theme emerged: The concern that Angelina received good health care because she is, well, Angelina.
Jen D, from NJ, was among those who wrote she couldn’t identify with the star’s experience: I appreciate Ms. Jolie’s essays about her health decisions. I do wish she would acknowledge — bluntly — that women’s “choices” are not always as robust as hers apparently are. Lack of health care, lack of sufficient health care, family finances, work situation, etc. can constrain these choices considerably. Sarah Strohmeyer, from Vermont, called on Angelina to make ready access to good healthcare her next cause: I only wish 99% of women WITH cancer, much less pre cancer, had the advantages you had. Could you please make this your next cause? I’m sure no one in Congress would look away were you to appear and testify.
There’s no question Angelina’s willingness to share her story improves screening awareness, says Kaylene Ready, Counsyl’s product lead on the Inherited Cancer Screen. After announcing in May 2013 that she was at high risk for cancer, the rate of BRCA screening jumped 40% in the week afterward and stayed elevated throughout the rest of the year, according to an AARP study. “But it’s clear we have a long way to go in letting people know that screening isn’t just for people with her means,” says Kaylene. “When I saw those comments I felt sad that people feel they don’t have access and a sense of urgency about getting the word out about Counsyl.”
“We’re doing everything we can to make taking a screen easy”
Counsyl is rolling out a campaign for an expanded version of the Inherited Cancer Screen in the next couple of months. Front and center is its affordability and the high touch benefit of having a genetic counseling session included with every screen. Getting out that message will rely in part on stories like Angelina’s, told by women and men who have taken the screen and can share why it mattered.
Making it possible for more people to get screened is a big part of what excites Kaylene about working at Counsyl. She’s also motivated by former patients who didn’t have that advantage, including a mother in her early 30s who lived near her in a small town in Texas. She was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer, the most aggressive form, and died soon after, leaving behind three children. “She’s the person I always think of when Angelina talks,” says Kaylene. “If only she’d been able to get tested earlier she might be alive.” At Counsyl, the goal is to make sure more people like her have that chance.
“I want people to know,” says Kaylene, “that we are doing everything we can to make taking a cancer screen as affordable and easy to take as possible.”