The New York Times published an op-ed piece by Angelina Jolie Tuesday morning, in which she articulately explains her reasoning for undergoing a preventative double mastectomy, a process that has taken the past three months to complete. Jolie’s mother died from cancer at age 56, and, after consulting doctors, Jolie confronted the reality that genetically she had an 87% risk of breast cancer, and a 50% risk of ovarian cancer. Now, “I can tell my children they don’t need to fear they will lose me to breast cancer, ” Jolie writes. Highlights from the essay below.
On the process of a double mastectomy:
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.
On talking with her children about the possibility of cancer:
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.
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.
On the priority of gene testing, and the cost barrier that still exists:
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.