Angelina Jolie published a moving and revealing op-ed in the New York Times Tuesday about her decision to undergo a preventative double mastectomy because of her high risk of developing breast cancer.
After her mother died from ovarian cancer in 2007 at the age of 56, Jolie feared that she too would die at a young age.
Because she carries the BRCA1 gene that increases a woman’s risk for breast and ovarian cancer, Jolie’s doctors told her that she had an 87 percent chance of developing breast cancer, and a 50 percent chance of getting ovarian cancer.
“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,” she writes. “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.”
Jolie finished the mastectomy procedures at the end of April after three months and was able to keep it secret, which seems nearly impossible since she is followed by paparazzi on a daily basis. She writes that she is making her mastectomy decision public to help other women learn about the preventative measures that exist.
“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.”
Jolie describes the multi-step process that takes several months, from testing the breast tissue for disease, removing it and then the long reconstruction surgery.
She writes, “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.”
Brad Pitt was by her side for “every minute of the surgeries.” She writes, “We knew this was the right thing to do for our family and that it would bring us closer.”
“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,” Jolie writes.
“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.”