Yesterday, Angelina Jolie announced that after learning through genetic testing that she was a carrier of the BRCA 1 "breast cancer" gene, she underwent preventative double mastectomy surgery to reduce her chances of suffering from breast cancer. Jolie's mother died from the disease after a decade long battle at the age of 56. Jolie wrote an op ed article in the New York Times describing why she underwent the surgery and why she decided to go public with her decision.
Angelina Jolie is regularly rated by magazines and media outlets to be considered one of the most beautiful and sexy actresses in Hollywood. In an industry obsessed with physical perfection and body ideals, a woman revealing that she had this type of surgery could endanger her career. Yet Jolie felt that it was important enough to break the stigma and raise awareness of BRCA 1 testing and preventative mastectomy procedures to help save lives. Instead of keeping this private decision private, she risked her career to reach out to others.
The choice to have a mastectomy even when diagnosed with breast cancer is usually very difficult for women. The removal of one's breasts can lead to a sense of reduced femininity, apart from losing an important part of one's body. To have one's breasts removed for preventative purposes is no small act. It requires enormous courage. In this case, Jolie said that the doctors informed her that her chance of getting breast cancer was 89% and the loss of her mother and the fact that her children would never know her informed Jolie's decision to have the surgery because Jolie didn't want her children to lose her like they did their grandmother. Now her chances of getting breast cancer are reduced to 5%.
In 2004, at the young age of 49, my mother died from breast cancer. The disease ravaged her body. Watching her die was hell. Every day I miss her and wish she were still here with me. It kills me that she will never know her grandchildren. She never was able to meet my wife, Cynthia, whom I know she would have loved. I don't believe my mother had the BRCA 1 gene mutation. But if she did and preventative mastectomy were available to her, no doubt she would have opted in. She loved life and was a warm and glowing light whose cast was snuffed out too soon. I hope that all women whose mothers, sisters, or aunts have had breast cancer receive genetic testing and discuss their options with their doctors. Angelina Jolie's bravery in revealing her decision will no doubt save thousands of lives.
Much like her charity work at the United Nations, Jolie's choice to have a large natural and adoptive family, and her other actions, Jolie has shown that with age comes maturity. She is no longer the wild child making out with her brother or wearing viles of blood around her neck with Billy Bob Thornton--she has grown up and become an amazing human being.
In interviews, Jolie comes across as down to earth, approachable, and warm. This is refreshing given she grew up a privileged child of Hollywood (her father is veteran actor Jon Voight). Her life partner is Brad Pitt and she makes millions of dollars starring in films and directing films. If that doesn't cause you to act like a stuck up, entitled bitch, then nothing will.
I applaud Angelina Jolie on her decision to put her children first and to share her decision about preventative mastectomy with the world. God bless her.