Angelina Jolie Has Preventative Double Mastectomy

angelina-jolie-ill-never-stop-missing-my-mom

Mom-of-six Angelina Jolie has revealed she underwent a double mastectomy after genetic tests showed she had a high risk of developing breast cancer. The Oscar winner, 37, had the surgery in February and completed the last of the follow-up procedures in April, she reveals in a New York Times op-ed piece called “My Medical Choice.”

“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 turns 38 next month. She and her fiancé Brad Pitt are parents to six children: Maddox, 12, Pax, 9, Zahara, 8, Shiloh, nearly 7, and 4-year-old twin Knox and Vivienne.

Filed under: Angelina Jolie,Featured

Photo credit: FameFlynet

21 Comments »»

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  1. Ali-Spain

    Brave woman

    Reply
  2. Anonymous

    What an inspiring story. Its wonderful that she is able to get this experience out and pass along information that could prove very useful to many and that some might not even hear otherwise.

    Reply
  3. Jessica

    I am very glad she was able to go through this in private with her family and share it if and when she wanted to!

    Angelina is one amazing person! Hope she has a good recovery physically and emotionally.

    Reply
  4. Anon

    Amazing woman! Her mother’s death obviously had a tremendous impact, but I’ve never expected Angelina to take a step like this. Very brave, not only because it’s scary to go through a procedure like this, but seeing as she’s considered a sex symbol and still “came out” publicly to inspire women everywhere.

    (Also great that her partner stood by her side.)

    Reply
  5. Robin

    That is a very loving thing to do for her family.

    Reply
  6. zxcvbnmasdfghjklqwertyuiop

    Wow, that’s awesome – talk about being pro-active. Love it, good for her.

    Reply
  7. musiclover

    I agree that it is wonderful that she was able to keep this private until she was ready to share it. What an amazing and brave woman she is! I hope she enjoys a long, healthy life to enjoy her children and future grandchildren.

    Reply
  8. Madame Joy

    This is happening more and more often, so hard to say how much good all this technology is doing for us. How much do we really want to know?

    Reply
    • Anonymous

      Its happening more often because technology is advancing and doctors are able to delve deeper and learn more about our bodies. Wouldn’t you want to know if you had such an increased chance for certain types of cancers? I know I certainly would. Even if it wasn’t guaranteed that I would become sick, if chances are that high I would certainly take preventative measures.

      Reply
    • mrs. trumbell

      um, if you have a 90% chance of getting/dying from cancer at a young age, leaving your young children without their mother, and you can reduce that chance to <5%…. wouldn't you want to know that? WHO wouldn't want to know that?

      Reply
  9. SMH

    This is why we haven’t seen her in awhile. Glad she was brave enough to make the decision and go through the process. Just wish this test was affordable for all women. Imagine how many lives we could save if we all had the access to these test.

    Reply
  10. Natalie

    That’s a difficult choice, let her recover soon, she is beautiful no matter what.
    But it’s a personal choice. And this can’t be the right option for everybody.
    The risk doesn’t mean people would get the desease. So, let’s say, if somebody has a risk of lung, liver, ovarian, breast, etc. cancer, that person should go and preventively remove all these organs? That’s just doesn’t make any sense. What’s going to remain of us? Destroying your body to prevent a seeming desease you might not even get.
    This idea is sick and it should not be promoted. Yes, everybody is entitled to his or her choice, but no more than that.
    Instead of encouraging and advertising endless surgeries, instead of cutting up people and then asknig questions, the medical establishment, which cares only about profits, should look into finding a real cure for cancer and other deseases.
    With all that money that goes into research you keep wondering – do they even want to find that cure? Doesn’ t look like it, so much profit would be lost. It’s better to continue doing expensive tests and even more expensive surgeries.
    And marketing them, through stars like Angelina.
    How sad…

    Reply
    • Granny

      I’ve been in her shoes. I doubt she took making this decision lightly. When I faced this call I wanted the best outcome for my family. You make it sound as if we thought of it as nothing more than making chopped beef. At least AJ and I won’t face breast cancer where we were heavily threatened before.

      Reply
    • Anonymous

      No, how sad for YOU. If someone told you you almost a 90% chance of developing breast cancer, you’re saying that you would do nothing?!?! Ridiculous that you would even compare this to a lung or a liver. Come out of your soft little bubble and join the real world. This woman made her decision based on HER body with HER doctors. Who the hell are you to second guess anyone else’s medical decisions?

      Reply
  11. Anon

    Angelina so brave, so beautiful, so I will do anything to stay relevant and garner adoration from the lemmings. So what, big whoop.

    Reply
    • Anonymous

      If you think she would go so far as to chop off her breasts to stay in the spotlight (which she will more than likely be in forever anyway) then there is something seriously wrong with you.

      Reply
      • Anonymous

        (Pretty sure that Anon is just suffering from “troll” syndrome. Say something provocative so that people will pay attention to him/her. Sad really.)

        Reply
  12. CaramelKiss

    *sigh* I’m glad she told her story. However, if the $3K is NOT covered by insurance and a woman cannot afford to take the test, how can she not feel powerless? This country’s medical standard on preventative medicine is atrocious.

    Reply
  13. Ashley

    Thank you, Angelina, for sharing your brave, inspiring story. I have not lost a parent to cancer, and God-willing, I hope I never will, but I have been present when a very close friend, a woman I considered to be my Aunt, passed away from a long battle with Cancer. It is humbling to see what a tiny group of cells can turn into and do to a person. I miss her terribly and will never forget what it was like to be in the room when she passed. I miss and love her so much.

    I am sure it was pure hell for Angelina to watch her mother slip away, and with a loving partner and six children to think about, what she did was incredibly brave and selfless. And what she did MAY have saved her children’s lives. Considering it is a matter of genetics, Knox, Vivienne or Shiloh may carry the trait. Hopefully they will never have to think about something like that, but Angelina has really opened a door for them.

    She is lucky to have a loving partner to be at her side through this. If I knew I could decrease the chances of getting cancer and leaving my children prematurely, I would do this in a heartbeat. Kudos to Angelina. You are truly a remarkable woman.

    Reply

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