After losing her mother, grandmother and aunt to cancer, Angelina Jolie has smartly taken whatever precautions necessary to ensure she would never succumb to the disease as well. In 2013, Jolie had a preventive double mastectomy to reduce her risk of cancer after genetic testing revealed she had an 87% chance of breast cancer, due to a mutation of the BRCA1 gene. She disclosed this decision in her first opinion piece for the New York Times, “My Medical Choice.” Now, the 39-year-old world-renowned actress revealed in her second New York Times op-ed feature that she has undergone preventative surgery to have her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed, too.
Jolie disclosed that she had been “planning this for some time,” however, the final push for surgery came when she received a call saying that there were “a number of inflammatory markers that are elevated, and taken together could be a sign of early cancer.” Having this specific BRCA1 gene mutation predisposed Jolie to ovarian cancer as well as breast, with a 50% risk of developing ovarian.
According to the American Cancer Society, only about 20 percent of ovarian cancers are found at an early stage, and it causes the most deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system. Due to the low percentage of detection, and her mother’s death from ovarian cancer, Jolie was rightfully panicked after that dismal call from her doctor.
“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.”
Although Jolie claims this surgery is less complex than her mastectomy, the effects seem to be more drastic since it forces women into menopause. The mother of six expressed her gratefulness for having already been able to create a family of her own before having to remove her ovaries.
However, Jolie wants others to know that her surgery was specific to her and her family history, and not all women should jump to surgery as a quick fix.
She explains, “A positive BRCA test does not mean a leap to surgery. I have spoken to many doctors, surgeons and naturopaths. There are other options. Some women take birth control pills or rely on alternative medicines combined with frequent checks. There is more than one way to deal with any health issue.”
With two major surgeries behind her and having been forced into menopause at an early age, Jolie has still managed to find peace with herself and her decisions. “I feel feminine, and grounded in the choices I am making for myself and my family. I know my children will never have to say, “Mom died of ovarian cancer.” Kudos to Angelina for having the courage to share her story, for it may help many women struggling through the same difficulties.