I’ve always felt for Angelina because her beloved Mom, Marcheline Bertrand, died of ovarian cancer. Take it from someone who knows it all too well…watching your Mom battle this insidious disease is excruciatingly painful. I spent 13 hours in the ER a few days ago because my Mom literally couldn’t walk due to unrelenting nausea and dizziness. I don’t care how much money Angelina has, or how beautiful she is, or if she snagged Brad Pitt on the sly (sidebar: my philosophy is happy marriages are unbreakable)—ovarian cancer is the great equalizer. I know exactly how she feels, and I have always hoped she’d do something for the cause—one that isn’t spoken about nearly enough.
Today, I would wear a Team Jolie t-shirt if I owned one.
Angelina Jolie’s revelation that she has a preventative double mastectomy to reduce her risk of breast cancer is profoundly brave. She’s a sex symbol who had gotten away with it—no stalkerazzi snapped a shot of her leaving the hospital in bandages. No one in her camp leaked the rumor to the press. She did this on her own, in her own voice, in her own timeframe to help other women. Women like me.
My Mom was diagnosed with Stage IIIc ovarian cancer 11 years ago, at age 52. She had two eggplant-sized tumors for ovaries and cancer that spread throughout her entire abdomen. Doctors also found Lobular Carcinoma In Situ (LCIS), a condition that markedly increases the risk for breast cancer. She was given a 20-percent chance of surviving five years.
Given the odds, we decided together that she would be tested for the BRCA genes. It takes some time to go through the process and get results, so I really thought about what I’d do if she was positive. If she was positive, I was likely positive. After deep soul-searching, I decided I would have a prophylactic mastectomy and oopherectomy (removal of ovaries) after I had kids. I was 28-years-old making life-altering decisions because I was so scared. As my Mom’s primary caregiver, I had already seen too much.
When my Mom’s test results came back negative I felt a little lost. A little less empowered. Without one of the BRCA genes I didn’t have a reason to remove organs that I had come to dread in my own body…even though I still have a much higher risk of both breast and ovarian cancers due to my family history. Somehow, I had to make peace with active surveillance.
I just had my annual mammogram and transvaginal ultrasound (to give a close up of my ovaries) and they looked perfectly healthy. I have come to appreciate these organs (I conceived naturally and breastfed by baby) instead of fear them, but removing them has never really left my mind. I want to be here to watch my kids grow up. I want to spoil my grandchildren. I want to sit on a farmhouse porch and bore my family with stories of when I was young. I want to see what I look like old and wrinkly. I want all of that much more than I want breasts or ovaries.
Truly, I understand why Angelina made her choice as the heart of a family with 6 children. She has the gene. Before her bilateral mastectomy, she had an 87 percent chance of developing breast cancer. Now, it’s just 5 percent.
I get it. And I applaud it.
Angelina still has a 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer. She intimated in her Op-Ed that she was going to take proactive measures to reduce her risk for ovarian cancer as well. Maybe she is planning what I am planning…to get a prophylactic oopherectomy in my late 40s or early 50s, around the time I will go into menopause anyway. Regardless of her future plans, she has everyone talking about breast and ovarian cancers. She’s highlighted that life-saving genetic testing can be cost prohibitive to many with a $3,000 price tag. She’s stirred the conversation and I am so grateful.
Now are you Team Jolie?