Two years ago the world was both moved and stunned when prized Hollywood beauty, Angelina Jolie wrote about her choice to have a double mastectomy. Well, yesterday, she surprised us again by revealing that she had removed her ovaries and fallopian tubes as a preventative measure against ovarian cancer.
Writing for the New York Times, Jolie opened up about her experience and explained that she carries the faulty BRCA1 gene, which means her risk of breast cancer increases to 87 per cent and risk of ovarian cancer to 50 per cent. “I lost my mother, grandmother and aunt to cancer,” she wrote.
Due to her family history, Jolie revealed she had been having regular appointments with both Eastern and Western doctors, and was preparing herself both physically and emotionally for when the time would come to have surgery. “I had been planning this for some time. It is a less complex surgery than the mastectomy, but its effects are more severe,” she revealed.
It was after a routine check that informalities alerted doctors and Jolie that there might be ovarian cancer in its early stages. After further tests were taken, the mother of six learnt that the tumour test was negative, yet there was still a chance of early stage cancer.
“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.”
Weighing up her options, the 39-year-old explained: “A positive BRCA test does not mean a leap to surgery… the most important thing is to learn about the options and choose what is right for you personally,” but in this case, Jolie’s doctors recommended the procedure.
“My doctors indicated I should have preventative surgery about a decade before the earliest onset of cancer in my female relative. My mother’s ovarian cancer was diagnosed when she was 49. I’m 39.” While the actress chose to keep her uterus, the operation has brought on menopause, left her unable to have children and hasn’t removed all risk. “The fact is I remain prone to cancer,” she said.
And while this news may come as a surprise to some, Jolie has still managed to find peace in a frightening situation. “The beautiful thing about such moments in life is that there is much clarity. You know what you live for and what matters. It is polarising, and it is peaceful,” she explained.
In 2013, Jolie surprised the masses, sending the media into a storm, and after her article was released yesterday, it has once again. So why the hysteria? Is it because people suddenly saw her as a real woman and not as an ethereal, untouchable celebrity? Did the world finally realise that even the most elite have emotions, difficult moments, tough issues and problems too?
The choices she made were educated and so is her article. Through the piece she highlights the issues and provides us with an informative, heartfelt and sensitive account.
Jolie, who is a UN High Commissioner for refugees feels comfortable with her decision. “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,'” she said.
Both men and women can contract the BRCA 1 or 2 genes and the process to analyse whether you may have them is as easy as taking a blood test. Women have a 1 in 54 chance of contracting ovarian cancer and for women like Jolie who have BRCA gene present, their chances of the cancer skyrocket to 1 in 2.
“I feel at ease with whatever will come, not because I am strong but because this is a part of my life. It is nothing to be feared.”
We applaud her decision – it’s not easy to make life-alerting choices in the public eye. We only hope that with the attention this has gained that more men and women will seek advice and learn about the risks that they may face. After all, as Jolie concludes: “Knowledge is power.”
Image via Dress Lilly