Angelina Jolie’s Doctor Taught Me An Invaluable Lesson

“You have lumpy breasts; we all do.” That’s what my mother said when I told her that I had discovered a lump. Shortly after I had given birth to my daughter, I felt a lump on the outer side of my left breast. Breastfeeding, plus our family history of dense breast tissue, meant that I didn’t immediately freak out about the possibility of breast cancer. I brought it up with my obstetrician, who immediately referred me to a breast specialist, Dr. Kristi Funk.

I drove to Beverly Hills for my first appointment at her office, which was located near Cedars-Sinai, where I had just recently given birth. The office was comfortable, modern and even luxurious (there was valet parking, but my guess is that’s standard operating procedure for Beverly Hills). I was ushered into an examination room and given a peek-a-boo gown to wear. Shortly thereafter, I met the woman who would one day perform Angelina Jolie’s double mastectomy.

At the time, Dr. Funk was getting ready to marry her fiancé (she and her husband now have triplet sons). Open and affable, we discussed her upcoming trip to Mexico and her wedding. If her expertly placed highlights were any indication, she was around my age. But I had no doubts in her ability; my OB had said that she was “the best in the business.”

Dr. Funk felt the lump in my breast, and then went on to explain that she wanted to take a sonogram of the area to see further. A few weeks later, she did a needle biopsy. She showed me the tissue that she extracted during the biopsy–a long, viscous thread was what she had pulled out. Dr. Funk called me at home a few nights later to tell me that it was benign.

Since then, I’ve been back to Dr. Funk a few times, most recently to examine a dense area of tissue that I like to call “the shelf.” By this point, I’d had more than one needle biopsy and numerous mammograms–all benign, thank goodness. I’d also finished breastfeeding my two children. So I asked Dr. Funk, only half-kidding, if she could “cut them both off.” Her response? “That may be overreacting.”

She’s probably right. Unlike Angelina Jolie, I don’t carry the deadly BRCA gene, so a prophylactic double mastectomy isn’t necessary. What is necessary is continued vigilance. Even though I am only 35, I get mammograms once a year and see a breast specialist (she’s not as fancy as Dr. Funk, but pretty acclaimed nonetheless). The fact is, breast cancer is the second deadliest form of cancer that American women will face (behind lung cancer) and more than 40,000 women in the U.S. will succumb to it this year. So maybe I don’t need a mastectomy yet, but if I ever do, my doctor will let me know.