Angelina Jolie may not be my favourite Hollywood personality, but she is a pretty solid human being in terms of her advocacy and activism for important social justice issues and her philanthropy. Plus, she’s living proof of the fact that celebrities can have privacy and live lives out of the spotlight if they really want to – especially after she revealed the shocking news that she recently underwent a preventative double mastectomy in a wonderfully frank and quite moving op-ed for The New York Times on Monday.
Jolie, whose mother died after a decade-long battle with breast cancer, discovered last year that she is a carrier of the BRCA1 gene mutation which gave her a nearly 87% chance of suffering from breast cancer as well as a 50% chance of ovarian cancer. This is devastating news, but news which she refused to take lying down, instead opting for surgery to cut her risk drastically.
Once I knew that this was my reality, I decided to be proactive and to minimize the risk as much I could. I made a decision to have a preventive double mastectomy. I started with the breasts, as my risk of breast cancer is higher than my risk of ovarian cancer, and the surgery is more complex.
On April 27, I finished the three months of medical procedures that the mastectomies involved. During that time I have been able to keep this private and to carry on with my work.
But I am writing about it now because I hope that other women can benefit from my experience. Cancer is still a word that strikes fear into people’s hearts, producing a deep sense of powerlessness. But today it is possible to find out through a blood test whether you are highly susceptible to breast and ovarian cancer, and then take action.
My own process began on Feb. 2 with a procedure known as a “nipple delay,” which rules out disease in the breast ducts behind the nipple and draws extra blood flow to the area. This causes some pain and a lot of bruising, but it increases the chance of saving the nipple.
Two weeks later I had the major surgery, where the breast tissue is removed and temporary fillers are put in place. The operation can take eight hours. You wake up with drain tubes and expanders in your breasts. It does feel like a scene out of a science-fiction film. But days after surgery you can be back to a normal life.
Nine weeks later, the final surgery is completed with the reconstruction of the breasts with an implant. There have been many advances in this procedure in the last few years, and the results can be beautiful.
I wanted to write this to tell other women that the decision to have a mastectomy was not easy. But it is one I am very happy that I made. My chances of developing breast cancer have dropped from 87 percent to under 5 percent. I can tell my children that they don’t need to fear they will lose me to breast cancer.
There’s more to the article – Jolie discusses how the decision affected her and her children emotionally, how supportive Brad Pitt has been throughout the ordeal and also encourages other women to seek options should they find themselves in the same position. The whole thing is definitely worth a read. Kudos to Angelina Jolie for bringing attention to this very important – and increasingly common – issue.