Angelina Jolie revealed that she recently underwent a double mastectomy after testing positive for the gene that predisposes her to breast and ovarian cancer.
“My mother fought cancer for almost a decade and died at 56,” Jolie wrote in an op-ed to the New York Times. “She held out long enough to meet the first of her grandchildren and to hold them in her arms. … We often speak of ‘Mommy’s mommy,’ and I find myself trying to explain the illness that took her away from us. They have asked if the same could happen to me. I have always told them not to worry, but the truth is I carry a ‘faulty’ gene, BRCA1, which sharply increases my risk of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer.”
The 37-year-old Oscar winner and U.N. goodwill ambassador said that her doctors estimated that she had an 87 percent risk of breast cancer and a 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer. Once she found out about this, she “decided to be proactive and to minimize the risk as much as I could” by having a preventive double mastectomy.
Jolie finished on April 27 the three months of medical procedures that the mastectomies involved. She started with her breasts as her risk of breast cancer is higher her risk of ovarian cancer, and the surgery is more complex.
“Cancer is still a word that strikes fear into people’s hearts, producing a deep sense of powerlessness,” she wrote. “But today it is possible to find out through blood test whether you are high susceptible to breast and ovarian cancer, and then take action.”
Jolie then continued to describe the mastectomy that involved procedure to save the nipple, removing the breast tissue, and the reconstruction of the breasts with an implant.
After the eight hours of surgery, Jolie said waking up to the drain tubes and expanders in your breasts felt “like a scene out of a science-fiction film.”
Then, nine weeks later, she underwent the final surgery for the breast reconstruction. “There have been many advances in this procedure in the last few years, and the results can be beautiful.”
While acknowledging the decision to have mastectomy was not easy, Jolie said her 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. … And they know that I love them and will do anything to be with them as long as I can.”
Jolie then describe the support that she has received from Brad Pitt through this process.
She then highlighted the fact that breast cancer alone kills some 458,000 people each year, according to World Health Organization, mainly in low- and middle-income countries. She advocated that women “should have access to gene testing and lifesaving preventive treatment, whatever their means and background, wherever they live.”
The mother to six children, three biological and three adopted, expressed her hope that women will be able to get gene tested, and be able to have “strong options.”
“Life comes with many challenges. The ones that should not scare us are the ones we can take on and take control of,” she concluded.