In a New York Times op-ed piece titled "Angelina Jolie: Diary of a Surgery," published this morning (Tuesday, March 24), Angelina Jolie reveals she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed—a procedure called "laparoscopic bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy." She underwent the procedure just last week, after results from a blood test indicated there "could be a sign of early cancer," her doctor said.
As you may recall, back in May 2013, Angelina, 39, wrote an op-ed announcing she'd had a preventative double mastectomy to reduce her risk of cancer, which was considered high because she carries a mutation of the BRCA1 gene. Her mother Marcheline's death from ovarian cancer at age 56 left her, Brad Pitt and their six kids with a high degree of anxiety around the disease. (Her grandmother and aunt also died from the disease.)
“I wanted other women at risk to know about the options,” she writes in this new op-ed. “I promised to follow up with any information that could be useful, including about my next preventive surgery, the removal of my ovaries and fallopian tubes.”
"I went through what I imagine thousands of other women have felt," the Oscar-winning actress says of her reaction to the test results. "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."
She called Brad, who was in France at the time, and he got right on a plane to be with her. And she consulted the surgeon—the very same surgeon who treated her mom—right away.
"She [the] teared up when she saw me," writes Angelina. "'You look just like her.' I broke down."
Angelina goes on to describe the agony of waiting five days for the results of a another test to see if a tumour discovered on her ovary was cancerous. "I passed those five days in a haze," she writes, "attending my children's soccer game, and working to stay calm and focused."
Thankfully, the tumour was benign, and she had no other signs of the disease. "I was full of happiness, although the radioactive tracer meant I couldn't hug my children," she writes. "There was still a chance of early stage cancer, but that was minor compared with a full-blown tumor. To my relief, I still had the option of removing my ovaries and fallopian tubes, and I chose to do it."
Indeed, this decision was not an easy one, since the surgery propels Angelina right into early menopause. She's wearing a patch and a had a special IUD inserted to help with hormone balance.
"Regardless of the hormone replacements I'm taking, I am now in menopause," she explains. "I will not be able to have any more children, and I expect some physical changes. But I feel at ease with whatever will come, not because I am strong but because this is a part of life. It is nothing to be feared."
"The fact is I remain prone to cancer," she adds, acknowledging that these types of surgeries do not remove the risk of cancer entirely.
"I feel feminine, and grounded in the choices I am making for myself and my family," she writes. "I know my children will never have to say, 'Mom died of ovarian cancer.'"
One thing Angelina emphasizes in the op-ed is that "knowledge is power." This is a choice she made that was best for her, but there are other choices for women.
"I did not do this solely because I carry the BRCA1 gene mutation," she insists, "and I want other women to hear this. A positive BRCA test does not mean a leap to surgery. I have spoken to many doctors, surgeons and naturopaths. There are other options. Some women take birth control pills or rely on alternative medicines combined with frequent checks. 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."
She goes on to express her gratefulness—reflecting on so many other women who go through this earlier in life, before they've had children. "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," she shares. "I hope they can be aware of that."
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