Tuesday, May 14, 2013

My Medical Choice - Angelina Jolie On Her Double Mastectomy

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I loved Angelina Jolie in Lara Croft, Tomb Raider. Then in Wanted, and her action movies including Mr. and Mrs. Smith. The whole scandal with Brad Pitt kind of muddied the waters, but in my opinion, she pulled through it pretty OK. She has since then gone on to star in, and direct more great movies.

Angelina Jolie is a hands-on philanthropist and humanitarian ambassador, and she's of course a role model for adoption, and I respect her for that. However, after reading this op-ed article she wrote for the New York Times, where she comes out about having both her breasts removed (double mastectomy) to reduce her chances of cancer, my respect for her has doubled if not quadrupled.

I wish her the best with her health and family. Please read and be inspired, and share.

MY MOTHER fought cancer for almost a decade and died at 56. She held out long enough to meet the first of her grandchildren and to hold them in her arms. But my other children will never have the chance to know her and experience how loving and gracious she was.

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.

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.

Only a fraction of breast cancers result from an inherited gene mutation. Those with a defect in BRCA1 have a 65 percent risk of getting it, on average.

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. 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.

On April 27, I finished the three months of medical procedures that the mastectomies involved. During that time I have been able to keep this private and to carry on with my work.

But I am writing about it now because 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.

My own process began on Feb. 2 with a procedure known as a “nipple delay,” which rules out disease in the breast ducts behind the nipple and draws extra blood flow to the area. This causes some pain and a lot of bruising, but it increases the chance of saving the nipple.

Two weeks later I had the major surgery, where the breast tissue is removed and temporary fillers are put in place. The operation can take eight hours. You wake up with drain tubes and expanders in your breasts. It does feel like a scene out of a science-fiction film. But days after surgery you can be back to a normal life.

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.

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.

It is reassuring that they see nothing that makes them uncomfortable. They can see my small scars and that’s it. Everything else is just Mommy, the same as she always was. And they know that I love them and will do anything to be with them as long as I can. 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.

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.

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 acknowledge that there are many wonderful holistic doctors working on alternatives to surgery. My own regimen will be posted in due course on the Web site of the Pink Lotus Breast Center. I hope that this will be helpful to other women.

Breast cancer alone kills some 458,000 people each year, according to the World Health Organization, mainly in low- and middle-income countries. It has got to be a priority to ensure that more women can access gene testing and lifesaving preventive treatment, whatever their means and background, wherever they live. The cost of testing for BRCA1 and BRCA2, at more than $3,000 in the United States, remains an obstacle for many women.

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.

Life comes with many challenges. The ones that should not scare us are the ones we can take on and take control of.

Angelina Jolie is an actress and director.

Please, we women should check ourselves regularly especially once you're over 30, or if your mother or female relatives have had any kind of cancer. Find information and teach yourself how to self-examine for breast cancer. Go for regular pap smears for cervical cancer, and ask your doctor if you need a mammogram.

Let your doctor know if you have any lumps in your breasts, or pain in your lower abdomen or unusual discharges. Cancer is becoming more and more common. But the good news is that it is usually treatable if caught early, and there is amazing science and technology to help in the process.

Don't allow fear block your future, take control of your health. Today.


  1. Wow. She's strong. I'm still beefing for breaking up my favorite couple in the world, but I admire her strength and honesty.

    1. Well, I don't always subscribe to the other woman/man thingy, people leave relationships because they want to. Nobody can snatch your man/woman unless he/she is ready to be snatched.
      I admire her courage to increase her life expectancy. I have always had this question in my mind regarding implants in the breast, do they still feel like the real deal, I mean are they still sensitive to touch and pleasurings? KMT

  2. Wow. she is so talented


  3. The wonderful Angelina Jolie..that was a very brave step you took..which eventually paid off... Goodluck and thumbs up!!!xoxo.

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