Breast cancer survivor to Jolie: 'I'd give her a hug today'

By Stacy

HANAHAN, S.C. (WCIV) -- Angelina Jolie announced via a New York Times op-ed piece Tuesday that she had a double mastectomy after undergoing genetic testing. The testing found she had the genetic mutation BRCA1, which gave her an 87-percent risk of getting breast cancer.

Experts said the announcement changes public opinion of breast cancer treatment.

Hanahan High School volleyball coach Wendy Anderson was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 36. She had a mastectomy on the breast that had cancer, but didn't get one on the other breast, on the advice of her doctors. But, over the next six years, she said she could not stop worrying.

"There is always that fear of maybe it'll come back," she said.

Six years later, she decided to have a mastectomy on her second breast, to eliminate the risk. But, she said she wished someone like Angelina Jolie had made her decision easier.

"It's great she did that. If I could give her a hug right now I'd be like, 'Thank you,'" she said.

She wanted to thank Jolie for putting a face to her fear. She said Jolie let other women know it would be okay.

"It's always helpful to put a name and face to an issue. It certainly increases awareness and hopefully acceptance,"said Medical University of South Carolina's Dr. Megan Baker Ruppel.

She said Jolie is another reason why people are getting more comfortable with the surgery. She also said the reconstructive techniques are better than ever and most insurance companies do cover genetic testing if you meet precursors like family background and personal health.

She said Jolie's proactive approach should be a model for other women and men.

"Some of this needs to be directed by the patients and making sure that they ask for the risk to be assessed," Baker Ruppel said.

"You have to be proactive. I took that and ran with it. I wanted to be able to educate young people," Anderson said.

She said her experience inspired her to speak to anyone who would listen. She talked about the importance of knowing your own body and getting the right tests done.

As of Tuesday, she had a big-name celebrity in her court.

Baker Ruppel also said most insurance companies would cover the mastectomy if genetic testing showed it would be recommended. She said the procedure saves insurance companies money as they can avoid cancer treatment.