May 14, 2013

Angelina Jolie: I Underwent A Double Mastectomy To Decrease Breast Cancer Chances


In an op-ed article for the New York Times, actress and director Angelina Jolie reveals she underwent a preventative double mastectomy earlier this year after learning she is a carrier of BRCA1, a “faulty” gene that increases her risk of developing ovarian and breast cancer. Jolie’s mom, Marcheline Bertrand, died of ovarian cancer in January 2007.

Jolie, 37, explains that the driving force behind her double mastectomy was her mother’s death and her own fear of developing cancer and leaving behind her 6 children with partner Brad Pitt. “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,” she writes. “My doctors estimated that I had an 87 percent risk of breast cancer and a 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer, although the risk is different in the case of each woman.”

“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,” explains Jolie. “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.”

The actress, 37, began the series of procedures on February 2 and completed them on April 27. “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,” she says.

“On a personal note, I do not feel any less of a woman. I feel empowered that I made a strong choice that in no way diminishes my femininity,” Jolie writes.

Jolie also praises Pitt for his support. “I am fortunate to have a partner, Brad Pitt, who is so loving and supportive. So to anyone who has a wife or girlfriend going through this, know that you are a very important part of the transition. Brad was at the Pink Lotus Breast Center, where I was treated, for every minute of the surgeries. We managed to find moments to laugh together. We knew this was the right thing to do for our family and that it would bring us closer. And it has,” she says. “For any woman reading this, I hope it helps you to know you have options. I want to encourage every woman, especially if you have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, to seek out the information and medical experts who can help you through this aspect of your life, and to make your own informed choices.”

“I choose not to keep my story private because there are many women who do not know that they might be living under the shadow of cancer. It is my hope that they, too, will be able to get gene tested, and that if they have a high risk they, too, will know that they have strong options,” adds Jolie. “Life comes with many challenges. The ones that should not scare us are the ones we can take on and take control of.”
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