Dr. Kristi Funk

The founder of the Pink Lotus Breast Center made international headlines when her patient Angelina Jolie divulged that she’d had a double mastectomy

Did you tell her?
Yes. He’d said what he wanted to say, and he knew I heard him because I answered him. But that was hard news to give to her. He was the first person who died like that for me. Trauma is hard. You think, “I can save them! I can save them! ” Then no, you can’t. You go from super adrenaline to a crash.

You opened Pink Lotus Breast Center—a private health clinic focused entirely on breast-related illness—in March 2009. Do you think entrepreneurial medicine like this is the way of the future?
I think the future has a clear divide: You’re going to have hospitals, whether university affiliated or community based, and then you’re going to have specialty centers. And these centers will focus on diseases that don’t require hospitalization for the majority of situations and that humanize and personalize the medicine delivered. Hospitals can be too big, too many patients. People who work there are not necessarily committed to a cause. The job is to check you in. Here the job is to check you in, make you smile, get you coffee, welcome you to my home.

What have you seen in terms of medical advancements since you opened the center?
I remember when I first started at Cedars 11 years ago, I was surprised by how the majority of physicians had no idea their patients were eligible for BRCA testing. The whole idea of this mutation was largely misunderstood but always obvious to me. So there is now an awareness of genetic predisposition to cancer beyond BRCA and risk assessment. There are factors that include the density of your breast tissue and your lifestyle choices, and we’re starting to have a better sense of how the collision of these factors can be used to guide those choices. The biggest transition here at Pink Lotus is that lately the conversations have turned a lot more toward mastectomy.

Since Angelina Jolie made her announcement about getting a double mastectomy, how much more are you hearing about BRCA?
The question seems to echo through the halls wherever I go. And I love it because—guess what—the answer a lot of the time is “No, you’re off the hook, there’s no indication you have BRCA.” One in every 500 to 800 women carry BRCA, and it’s enough to analyze everyone who walks through this door. It’s covered by insurance, so it’s a no-brainer. Why shouldn’t everyone who can empower themselves with this information? Still, we’d be right on target if 90 percent of women we test are negative. Moreover, only 5 to 10 percent of all breast cancer patients have a genetic mutation we can test for, and not all of that category is BRCA.

How helpful has it been to have a famous face attached to BRCA?
If your goal is to reach women around the world and back again, and to create awareness and education, then it’s incredibly important. 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. Celebrities come into your home via TV and movies and magazines. 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.

I consider her a citizen of the world.
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?” And when you hear the answer, if you are a woman or if you love any woman, you have to ask, “Should you find out about that?” You’ve just educated over a billion people. It gave me a platform from which I could reach millions of women who might otherwise not hear the advice I have to give and potentially save their lives.

Was it clear from the get-go that Angelina, as your patient, would make her experience public?
Yes. 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.

This article was originally published in the September 2013 issue of Los Angeles magazine