YT: In the op-ed, Jolie mentions that she does not feel "any less of a woman" after treatment. Was losing a sense of femininity ever a concern for you?
DS: No. We are not defined by our breasts. That's not what makes us moms, teachers, scientists, etc. If I'd had a full breast removed, I may have had the reconstructive surgery like Angelina did, but I don't know. If a woman feels she needs it, I say, good for her. If she'll enjoy herself more when she looks in the mirror, or she'll feel more secure in finding a mate, then that's great. We are the goddesses we are because of what's inside and reconstruction just supports how a woman already feels from within.
DS: Sexually, things haven’t changed at all. Joe's been very careful and tender with my breasts and sometimes there's no touching at all, like after radiation because it feels like I'm sunburnt. But other than that sex is the same. If anything, we've gotten closer, and the cancer has increased our intimacy.
As far as my appearance, Joe hasn't had a problem with my slight change. I mean, I'm going on 59 so it’s not like my breasts were super perky to begin with. I'm smaller on one side now, but he doesn't notice. And it's not that he's trying to protect my feelings. He just sees me, the woman he loves.
If Joe did have a hard time feeling intimate with me, though, he would've gotten some help. There are plenty of support services out there. It's important to remember that the men shouldn't be judged either. If they're having a hard time, they need to be honest and they can get help. Not all is lost.
YT: For Jolie, her children were a factor in her decision. Did your children affect your choices as well?
DS: I have two adult children who were concerned about me, but I reassured them that I'd be fine. I didn't have to factor in little children and their thoughts, but honestly, even if my kids were younger, I don't think it would've changed my decisions at all. I don't think these choices depend on the age of the children. Whatever a mother thinks is best for her health is best for the family.
It sounds like Angelina Jolie takes some comfort in knowing that her reconstructive surgery will help her kids see her in the same way. We should support that. But I also have a friend who breastfed with one breast. Later on there will be a conversation about why mommy is the way she is, and I think that can be very educational for little ones.
YT: What advice do you have for other women facing these kinds of health decisions, whether it’s genetic testing or preventive treatment or a cancer diagnosis? How do you approach these tough choices while maintaining a nurturing relationship with your partner?
DS: There are going to be emotions so be prepared for that. But also remember that the first relationship you have is with yourself. Things can feel quite skittish, but try to feel secure in your own feelings first. As for your partner, it can be really helpful to invite him along to meet with you and your practitioner. That way you don’t have to handle all of his worries and questions on your own.
Also, know that you have choices. It can feel like you've been thrown into this big "cancer machine" and you have to follow along and trust authority. But it's okay to ask questions like, "Is this necessary? Why are we doing this?"
YT: Do you think that’s the biggest lesson to take away from this Angelina Jolie story—that each woman is free to make her own choices?
DS: Yes. We should read with interest and listen with interest, but remove all judgment. There is no right or wrong way to approach cancer. It’s very individual. So, when we read other women's stories it’s always important to be open and supportive.