When Angelina Jolie discovered two years ago that she carries a mutation in the BRCA1 gene that increases risk for breast and ovarian cancer (her mother passed away from ovarian cancer at age 56), she made the decision to have a double mastectomy—that is, she got both her breasts removed. A woman’s breasts are undoubtedly a sign of her femininity, a physical difference that separates women (biologically speaking) from men. So it was no surprise that experts, journalists, and husband Brad Pitt applauded her decision back then, with Pitt calling her choice “absolutely heroic.”
Earlier this month, Jolie has had another preventive procedure, the removal of her ovaries and fallopian tubes, which she documented in an op-ed that was published in the New York Times yesterday.
Jolie’s decision to have her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed was not an easy one but it was the right choice for her: “I did not do this solely because I carry the BRCA1 gene mutation, and I want other women to hear this,” she says. “There are other options… and there is more than one way to deal with any health issue. The most important thing is to learn about the options and choose what is right for you personally.” Although Jolie remains prone to cancer, the procedure has ensured that the risks are substantially lowered, but it has also led to the onset of early menopause and means that Jolie cannot have any more children.
Medical experts have spoken out, calling Jolie “courageous” and “influential.” Dr Otis Brawley, the chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, said he understood what Jolie did and “would have done it, too,” whilst Dr Ken Offit, chief of clinical genetics at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, said: “These very publicly shared medical sagas from respected figures play a very powerful role in creating these teachable moments,” CNN.com reported.
But what I find commendable and most inspiring is Jolie’s desire to share her story because she “wanted other women at risk to know about the options.” Reading her op-ed, I didn’t care that she was big-time Hollywood actress, director, and UN envoy Angelia Jolie. Instead, I approached it as a woman reading about another woman’s plight, experiences, and feelings about this life-changing event. The decision to not have any more children and go into menopause at the age of 39 is not an easy one to make, but Jolie did it anyway because she wanted to know that her “children will never have to say, ‘Mom died of ovarian cancer.’” That is brave, that is beautiful, and it underlines exactly why stories like this—whether from famous people or not—have to be shared.
Jolie also—importantly—acknowledges women who have not yet had children faced with the same decision. It is clear that the mother of six recognizes that she is in a different position to a younger woman or a woman who wants kids but has not yet had the chance to have them getting a similar diagnosis. “[These women’s] situation [are] far harder than mine. I inquired and found out that there are options for women to remove their fallopian tubes but keep their ovaries, and so retain the ability to bear children and not go into menopause. I hope they can be aware of that.”
Many women might feel robbed of their femininity with both their breasts and ovaries removed, but Jolie emphasizes it doesn’t have to be the case. “I feel feminine, and grounded in the choices I am making for myself and my family.” And that’s more important than anything.
Title image source: india.com