Angelina Jolie Pitt hasn’t had it easy over the past few years. In 2013, she wrote about having a preventative double mastectomy in order to hopefully elude breast cancer — which she is genetically predisposed to. Today, she wrote another op-ed for The New York Times about her choice to remove her ovaries and fallopian tubes to also hopefully prevent ovarian cancer.
Jolie wrote that she carries a mutation in the BRCA1 gene — which many Ashkenazi women also carry, FYI — that gave her an estimated 87 percent risk of breast cancer and a 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer. She has also lost her grandmother, mother, and aunt to cancer, so her chances of falling prey to the disease are sadly rather high.
The preventative treatment of breast and ovarian cancers — two cancers that are closely associated with women — is often very difficult to endure on a psychological level. To remove the breasts and reproductive organs is to remove, in some sense, what makes one biologically female. Of course, we know that Jolie and others like her are no less feminine than they were before their procedures, but the immense bravery it takes to make this decision and, furthermore, to write about it for public scrutiny cannot and should not be ignored.
In her op-ed, she made a point to acknowledge that removal is not the only option when it comes to preventing these cancers. However, due to her familial situation, doctors believed it was best for her to do the procedure. She also implores other women to explore all their options to the best of their ability.
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.
I feel deeply for women for whom this moment comes very early in life, before they have had their children. Their situation is 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.
It is not easy to make these decisions. But it is possible to take control and tackle head-on any health issue. You can seek advice, learn about the options and make choices that are right for you. Knowledge is power.
Needless to say, her courage is profound as it is selfless. Thanks to women like Jolie, who speak out about their experiences, other women can feel less afraid to make these important decisions which can ultimately save their life.