Actress Angelina Jolie has added a new cause to her long list of humanitarian efforts, but the latest is her most personal one of all. In an op-ed published in The New York Times on Tuesday, Jolie announced that she recently had a preventive double mastectomy after learning she carries a faulty gene linked to a highly elevated risk of both breast and ovarian cancer. Her mother, Marcheline Bertrand, developed ovarian cancer in her late forties and died at the age of 56 and Bertrand's mother died at the age of 45. When doctors told Jolie that her family history and genetic screening gave her an 87-precent chance of getting breast cancer, the 37-year-old made the choice to have the pre-emptive surgery.
Jolie—who in addition to her Oscar-winning acting career is a Special Envoy to the United Nations refugee program—used her Times piece not just to circumvent the TMZs of the world in breaking the news, but to make a plea for more awareness and more resources to help women get the same care she did. The test that revealed she has the BRCA1 gene costs over $3,000 and can be difficult to get without top-level insurance. (The BRCA genes were also the subject of a controversial Supreme Court case heard last month over whether private companies can patent human genes.)
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.
The surgeries needed to have her breasts removed were not easy or cheap, either. Jolie provided details of the three major procedures done over the course of three months—which she miraculously managed to keep secret from the ever-prying eyes of tabloids. Her final breast reconstruction procedure was completed on April 27, but no hint of the story hit the papers before today. She also promised to reveal more details about her health care at the website for Pink Lotus Breast Center in the near future.
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.
Jolie has six children; three that were adopted from overseas orphanages and three others with her fiancée, Brad Pitt.
Update: It seems Jolie's op-ed has already inspired one woman to join her in speaking up. CNN morning anchor Zoraida Sambolin posted on Facebook this morning that she has was recently diagnosed with breast cancer and will also be undergoing a double mastectomy
I struggled for weeks trying to figure out how tell you that I had been diagnosed with breast cancer and was leaving to have surgery then..Angelina Jolie shares her story of a double mastectomy and gives me strength and an opening.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.