Angelina Jolie is an incredibly brave woman. Two years ago, after finding out she was positive for the BRCA1 gene, she had an elective double mastectomy to mitigate her risk for developing breast cancer. The brave part is that she told the whole world about it and brought awareness to the fact that women can know and take action if they’re genetically prone to breast and ovarian cancers. Now, she is in the news again after penning an op-ed for The NY Times where she explains her decision to remove both her ovaries and Fallopian tubes after a recent cancer scare.
Jolie writes of the events that led to her choice to remove her ovaries and tubes. Blood work had revealed certain inflammatory markers were elevated and that it could mean early stage ovarian cancer. She was told to see a surgeon and have her ovaries checked immediately:
I went through what I imagine thousands of other women have felt. I told myself to stay calm, to be strong, and that I had no reason to think I wouldn’t live to see my children grow up and to meet my grandchildren.
I’m sure we can all related to those thoughts. If my health is ever in question, my children and their future is the first thing I think of. How terrifying for her. Jolie saw the surgeon and had a PET scan done. As it turned out, she had no signs of cancer but this ordeal was enough to convince her that her ovaries and tubes needed to be removed.
Her story certainly hits close to home. I had a close female relative diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer last year at the impossibly young age of 29. As it turned out, she was positive for the BRCA gene, as was her mother, who is an eight-year breast cancer survivor. My mother’s test was also positive. I somehow skated and my test was negative, a fact that I am grateful for daily. Last summer and fall, I watched my mother undergo all of the preventative surgeries. She had a double mastectomy, breast reconstruction and full hysterectomy in order to head off the chance of any cancer developing in the future. My now 30-year old relative had a double mastectomy as well and is working with her doctors to make a decision about her ovaries and tubes.
Watching these women that I love go through such a horrific ordeal was difficult beyond description. That is why I cannot tell you what it means to see someone like Angelina Jolie — elegant, feminine, famous and powerful — admitting how vulnerable she is in the face of this terrifying thing. Cancer does not discriminate. You can hide your head in the sand about your health status or you can do something about it and know all of the risks you may face.
For the women out there afraid of losing their femininity with these surgeries or afraid in general, it may hearten them to see Jolie in the spotlight showing that it can be done. And that you are still a woman afterward. A woman who has done all she can to beat the chances of developing cancer and go on to live a full and healthy life. Do not underestimate the impact of Jolie speaking out. I can say from experience that when my status was in question, seeing her in the news talking about her mastectomy and reconstruction helped me immensely. I wish I could thank her in person. She is doing more than she knows to help women understand their risk and ways they can take control of their health.