Los Angeles Magazine’s September Cover Preview: Dr. Kristi Funk, Angelina Jolie’s Surgeon

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In Los Angeles magazine’s September issue, Dr. Kristi Funk, the surgeon who performed Angelina Jolie’s double mastectomy, talks for the first time about Jolie’s resolve to help others and about the impact her decision to go public had on women around the world. Funk’s Beverly Hills clinic, Pink Lotus Breast Center, has made advocating for women’s health a primary focus. In the wide-ranging interview with editor-in-chief Mary Melton, Funk talks about BRCA1, the genetic mutation that greatly increased Jolie’s chances of developing breast and ovarian cancer. Other topics include faith, fear, and getting every woman the care she deserves.   

Below, a few excerpts:

Dr. Funk on if it was always clear that Jolie, as her patient, would plan to make her surgery public:
She waited to find the perfect timing in her personal and professional life, but I think most importantly in her soul. She is intensely private, but she calculated the moment when she would be ready to reveal something so personal. She knew always that in her philanthropic core she couldn’t keep this a secret and be who she is. She always knew.

Dr. Funk on whether it was intimidating to perform the surgery, knowing that the results would be so publicly scrutinized:
Treating Angelina forced my mind into a creative mode. I thought through every possible thing that I could do to improve outcomes and developed some beautiful, helpful changes to both the surgery and the preparations.

Dr. Funk on how important it has been for public awareness about the BRCA genetic mutation to have a famous person like Angelina Jolie speak out about her experience:
It’s indispensable because it’s simply easier for people to listen to someone whom they adore and trust, and that’s who celebrities are. While they have no idea who you are, they are somehow friends of yours. So it was your friend Angelina who expanded your understanding of what breast cancer is or could be. You had no idea until she said it that there was a gene out there that could be tested through your blood or saliva.

Her humanitarianism and philanthropy are unparalleled in the celebrity world. Not to mention that she’s just extraordinarily beautiful. So when someone who inspires that degree of admiration—someone who’s taken seriously and is also a tremendous beauty, arguably the most beautiful woman in the world—removes the part of her body that, as we’ve discussed, is symbolic of femininity and sexuality, you have to say, “Why would she do that?”

Dr. Funk on why women who have received diagnoses of breast cancer often jump to worst-case scenarios:
The stories about breast cancer that are most poignant, shocking, and newsworthy tend to end badly. So women’s minds go to the most recent thing they’ve heard, which maybe is Elizabeth Edwards. But she’s not the norm. Stage 0, 1, and 2 cancers are very curable, and Stage 3 is curable, too, but takes a lot more treatment because it can become Stage 4. Everything but 4 is curable.

Dr. Funk on how breasts figure in to women’s identities:
It takes a strong sense of self, which we hope women strive to achieve, to say, “I am not my breasts,” because breasts are symbolic. If you want to say otherwise, you’re in denial. Also, it is much more devastating to have something external altered unwillingly. People don’t say, “Can you just take a little less of my colon? How much of my colon are you taking? What will it look like?” You don’t have those conversations about colons. I have them all day long about breasts.

Dr. Funk on the silver lining that can come with surviving breast cancer:
So many men and women emerge stronger from this disease. It can alter their sense of self or even their career path or their relationships for the better. For many it took something as loud as cancer for them to listen. Many women will say, “I don’t regret having gone through that. I’m better having walked through the fire.” They surprise themselves with their resilience. It’s almost like they fall in love with themselves for having endured something so threatening and then emerged victorious from it.

For more from the September issue of Los Angeles magazine, pick up a copy (on newsstands August 20) or subscribe.

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Comments

  1. Lea Taylor

    August 17, 2013 at 9:54 pm

    I had a bilateral mastectomy when I was a 37 year old widow because I had “atypical Ductal hyperplasia” which was a 100% chance of developing breast cancer. I have had several reconstructive procedures but I turn 70 in October and have never regreted my decision. I am proud of Angelina and applaud her courage.

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  2. melissa ward

    August 29, 2013 at 6:14 pm

    I enlisted Dr. Funk to perform a double mastectomy after having been diagnosed with DCIS & LCIS in the spring of 2010. I was impressed with her intelligence and background. Through the process though, I didn’t find her to be the warm and compassionate doctor I’d heard mention of. First she insisted on doing a pre-mastectomy surgical procedure, a “sub-areolar nipple resection” in order to discover if my nipples could be saved. Why she couldn’t do a needle biopsy is beyond me. I searched the vast online breast cancer logs and found no mention of this procedure, yet I agreed.

    I came out of that surgery devastated, as she had removed and then sewn my nipples back on in a lopsided and sloppy fashion, and the lab results weren’t even in yet. My heart sunk. She assured me that she takes great pains to leave the best tissue flaps for the surgeon to use in reconstruction. When I went in for my first post-mastectomy appt. I innocently asked why there was a dip on one side of my upper chest. She paused, then said that my rib on that side stuck out. She blamed me, my anatomy, for her work. I knew this couldn’t be true, as I’m very familiar with my highly symmetrical anatomy and had been at one time a lingerie model.

    In all, in the past three and a half years, I’ve had eight surgeries in connection with reconstruction for breast cancer . And I’m not finished yet. All of these painful and costly surgeries, both psychologically, and financially, as well a physically, are a result of Dr. Funk’s imperfect work. She loves to use the word “perfect.” There is no such thing.

    Both plastic surgeons told me that these problems are a direct result of the breast surgeon taking off too much on one side leaving very thin tissue. So today Dr. Funk appears on the cover of Los Angeles Magazine as the uber breast surgeon, and I’m going in to have stitches removed from my eight breast procedure. Ironic, huh? In other words, Dr. Funk funked me up! And couldn’t give a damn. She’s laughing all the way to the bank and to her next interview.

    (note to editor: I’m not sure if my first comment went through so this is the second. If you choose to use either of them feel free to choose whatever you wish. You’ll most likely pass on publishing it though, due it’s controversial nature.)

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