Photo credit: Christina Applegate & Ron Perlman by Gage Skidmore (flickr)
When a celebrity experiences something, whether a rocky relationship or the birth of a new child, the general public is often thrilled because these occurrences make celebrities seem more relatable. There might not be anything more relatable to a celebrity’s humanness than the announcement of a health crisis.
In 2008, actress Christina Applegate publicly addressed her battle with breast cancer and her treatment which included a double mastectomy. Although Applegate has made no indication that her cancer has returned, in a recent interview, she did discuss her current health status, and she offered some advice and opinions about cancer from her personal experience.
Christina Applegate’s past battles
Christina Applegate famously discussed her battle with breast cancer after being diagnosed in 2008. Although there’s absolutely nothing shameful about battling breast cancer – in fact it takes a lot of strength and courage – it’s still considered a taboo topic in the media, even more so in 2008 than today. At the time of her original diagnosis, Applegate acknowledged that as part of her treatment she underwent a double mastectomy. After undergoing successful treatment, Applegate went on to found Right Action for Women which is an organization that helps at risk women get MRIs in order to assess their likelihood of developing cancer. While Applegate has not relapsed since her successful treatment nearly 10 years ago, she did recently discuss her current health status.
On October 11, during an interview with The Today Show, Applegate disclosed that she recently underwent surgery to have her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed. Applegate initially noted that her cousin actually died from ovarian cancer in 2008 and so she underwent the surgery as a means of preventing the disease. In addition to having a family history of ovarian cancer, which is in itself a risk factor, Applegate also carries a BRCA gene mutation. Women with the BRCA gene mutation are more likely to develop breast and ovarian cancer and are therefore at a much higher risk than the general population. Although Applegate opted to have her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed, this surgery wasn’t her first step towards preventing the disease. In the interview, she also discussed lifestyle changes she’s made since battling breast cancer and the importance of these changes as well as other preventative measures.
Drastic lifestyle changes
In her interview with The Today Show Applegate advocated for healthier eating habits, especially for women at a high risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer. Applegate herself maintains a 100% organic diet by growing all of her own fruits and vegetables. While she acknowledged that it can be difficult and expensive to maintain a completely organic diet, Applegate did urge viewers to be aware of the types of foods they are putting into their bodies.
According to research by medical professionals, there’s no definite link at this time between a specific diet and cancer prevention. Although there’s no miracle diet, studies and medical professionals do recommend maintaining an overall healthy lifestyle. Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables and minimizing foods that are high in processed fats and sugar can help cultivate a balanced diet. The better a person’s overall health, the less likely to develop cancer, and the more likely she’ll be to have a successful treatment if she does develop cancer. In addition to maintaining a nutritional diet, getting plenty of exercise is also important.
Exercise can actually contribute to a positive lifestyle change on two different counts. On the one hand, exercise burns excess calories and contributes to general cardiovascular and muscular health. On the other hand, exercise can also be a great stress reducer. Applegate discussed in her interview the importance of minimizing stress in the battle against cancer. Although we live in a fast-paced society, and especially at a time when different stressful events seem to be making the headlines on a regular basis, you can still take small steps to minimize stress. Applegate noted that she practices deep breathing to help regulate her stress levels throughout the day. Taking deep breaths is a great and simple way to increase mindfulness and decrease stress. There are countless strategies for combating stress, from yoga to meditation to massage therapy, the list goes on and contains and option for everyone. Like maintaining an overall healthy diet, minimizing stress also contributes to holistic health which can be a huge factor when battling cancer.
The preventive surgery
It’s important to note that Applegate’s choice to have her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed was an elective surgery. According to the interview, she hadn’t developed ovarian cancer, but she was a high-risk patient because of her family history and the fact that she has a BRCA mutation. In considering preventative surgery as a treatment option, Applegate discussed with The Today Show the importance of her organization, Right Action for Women. The tests that reveal whether a woman has a BRCA mutation are very expensive. Many women, especially women who have no or limited healthcare available to them aren’t able to complete the tests and therefore will never know whether they have a higher risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer. Through her organization, Applegate is both advocating for more comprehensive healthcare that would cover cancer screening tests while also providing resources for women to have these tests completed. If a woman knows that she has a BRCA mutation, then she may be able to make more informed choices about her lifestyle and possible preventative surgeries before cancer develops.
While Applegate opted to undergo preventative surgery, there isn’t necessarily a consensus in the medical community on whether or not this is the best treatment option. In America, non-necessary hysterectomies which may or may not include the removal of the ovaries and fallopian tubes are more common than any other Western nation. In cases like Applegate’s where there is both a family history of ovarian cancer and the presence of a BRCA mutation which makes the development of cancer much more likely, a preventative surgery is a reasonable option. In some cases, however, when women may not have as many risk factors, preventative surgeries may not be necessary. The medical community continues to complete studies on the effectiveness of preventative surgeries, so only time will tell what the best methods of cancer prevention are. Whether doctors suggest preventative surgeries or not, the choice to perform the tests necessary to reveal what risk factors are present in an individual woman’s condition would certainly illuminate the situation.
Although there is still a stigma about publicly discussing breast and ovarian cancer, society is becoming increasingly comfortable talking about these conditions out in the open. Nearly ten years ago, Christina Applegate worked to make breast cancer a more public discussion when she announced her own battle with the disease and subsequent treatment. Now, Applegate is again working to end the fight against breast and ovarian cancer. By publicly discussing her choice to have her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed, and by acknowledging the risk factors involved in her situation, Applegate is bringing a heightened level of awareness to the disease. Additionally, through her organization, Right Action for Women, Applegate is advocating for and providing more comprehensive testing services. Although there’s no cure at this point, and no surefire way to prevent cancer, making lifestyle changes and undergoing preventative surgeries are two ways to inhibit the disease.
Above all, being informed about the symptoms of breast and ovarian cancer and your own risk factors are some of the most important steps any woman can take.
You can read Christina Applegate’s full interview at Today.com.