Angelina Jolie has been outspoken about her experience in trying to remain cancer-free, first undergoing a double mastectomy after discovering she was the carrier of a gene which would make developing the illness all but certain. Now she has taken the next step in the process by having her ovaries removed after experiencing yet another cancer scare, and she feels good about her decision to take control of her health.
In a piece written for the New York Times, Angelina explained:
I had been planning this for some time. It is a less complex surgery than the mastectomy, but its effects are more severe. It puts a woman into forced menopause. So I was readying myself physically and emotionally, discussing options with doctors, researching alternative medicine, and mapping my hormones for estrogen or progesterone replacement. But I felt I still had months to make the date.
Then two weeks ago I got a call from my doctor with blood-test results. “Your CA-125 is normal,” he said. I breathed a sigh of relief. That test measures the amount of the protein CA-125 in the blood, and is used to monitor ovarian cancer. I have it every year because of my family history.
But that wasn’t all. He went on. “There are a number of inflammatory markers that are elevated, and taken together they could be a sign of early cancer.” I took a pause. “CA-125 has a 50 to 75 percent chance of missing ovarian cancer at early stages,” he said. He wanted me to see the surgeon immediately to check my ovaries.
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 called my husband in France, who was on a plane within hours. The beautiful thing about such moments in life is that there is so much clarity. You know what you live for and what matters. It is polarizing, and it is peaceful.
After seeing the surgeon, Angelina underwent a series of tests, from ultrasounds to PET/CT scans and they all came back normal. She was relieved, but still not convinced that she was out of the woods. There was still a chance that she had early stage ovarian cancer that these tests couldn’t determine, but it meant it was early enough that she could still undergo the surgery to remove the ovaries, which she decided to do.
Last week, I had the procedure: a laparoscopic bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy. There was a small benign tumor on one ovary, but no signs of cancer in any of the tissues.
I have a little clear patch that contains bio-identical estrogen. A progesterone IUD was inserted in my uterus. It will help me maintain a hormonal balance, but more important it will help prevent uterine cancer. I chose to keep my uterus because cancer in that location is not part of my family history.
It is not possible to remove all risk, and the fact is I remain prone to cancer. I will look for natural ways to strengthen my immune system. 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.”
Of course, the piece is much longer than this and is well worth the read, but good for Angelina for making this difficult choice and for encouraging other women to take control of their own health. Ovarian cancer can be symptomless for years until it’s too late and needlessly kills so many women. I seriously hope one day we discover a cure for cancers of all types, but for now, early detection and treatment is the best chance we have in combatting it.