Sunday, Angelina Jolie’s aunt, Debbie Martin, died of breast cancer at the age of 61. Martin was the younger sister of Jolie’s mother, Marcheline Bertrand, who died of ovarian cancer in 2007 at 56. Jolie’s genetic disposition towards breast cancer and ovarian cancer, due to the presence of the defective BRCA1 gene, motivated the actress to have a preventative double mastectomy. She also plans to have both of her ovaries removed.
Jolie is not the only celebrity who has gone through a double mastectomy. Here are five others.
In 2008, when she was 36, Christina Applegate was diagnosed with breast cancer. The daughter of a breast cancer survivor, Applegate planned to treat the cancer, which had not spread beyond her left breast, with radiation. But after a test revealed that she had the BRCA1 gene, she decided to have a double mastectomy. Applegate explained, “It just seemed like, ‘I don’t want to have to deal with this again. I don’t want to keep putting that stuff in my body. I just want to be done with this.’ And I was just going to let them go.”
Sharon Osbourne was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2002 when she was 49. She underwent chemotherapy and had a foot of her colon removed. She then founded the Sharon Osbourne Colon Cancer Program at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. In 2012, Osbourne learned she had the BRCA1 gene and opted for a double mastectomy, though she didn’t have breast cancer. “As soon as I found out I had the breast cancer gene, I thought, ‘The odds are not in my favor’,” Osbcourne reflected. “I’ve had cancer before and I didn’t want to live under that cloud. I decided to just take everything off, and had a double mastectomy.”
In 2003, Kathy Bates battled ovarian cancer, undergoing chemotherapy and surgery. Nine years later, at 64, Bates was diagnosed with breast cancer. She decided to have a double mastectomy: “After much consideration, I underwent a double mastectomy. Luckily, I don’t have to undergo radiation or chemo. My family call me Kat because I always land on my feet and thankfully this is no exception.” Bates is aware that her celebrity status makes her luckier than most people. Describing her first fight with cancer, she said, “because of my celebrity, I didn’t have to wait even for an operating table. I got in really quickly. But a lot of people aren’t so fortunate.”
After doctors performed breast reduction surgery on Wanda Sykes, they realized the comedian had ductal carcinoma in situ in her left breast in 2011. In light of this and a history of breast cancer on her mother’s side of the family, Sykes, 47 at the time, decided to have a double mastectomy. At first she was reluctant to talk about it: “I was like, I don’t know, should I talk about it or what? How many things could I have? I’m Black, then Lesbian. I can’t be the poster child for everything.”
The actor best known for playing Shaft was 51 when he was diagnosed with breast cancer. At first, Richard Roundtree couldn’t believe the news. But, it turns out, nearly 2,000 men are diagnosed with breast cancer and over 400 die from the disease each year in the United States. Roundtree underwent chemotherapy, radiation treatments, and a double mastectomy.
He kept his surgery and cancer a secret, at first: “No insurance company would insure me if they found out… And in order to work on a film, you need the stamp of approval from an insurance company. So unfortunately I had to keep it a secret.” Finally, Roundtree came out of the closet: “I was in the closet, so to speak, until after the fifth year when I was cancer free.” Roundtree says that “Not talking about my cancer was really tough… And now that I do talk about it all the time, it’s really become a backhanded blessing. I was getting on a plane recently and a flight attendant ran up to me and said ‘You saved my husband’s life.’” Her husband had a lump in his chest and only agreed to get it checked out after she showed him an article about the actor. Roundtree said, “Her husband had caught it early, which probably did save his life.” And Roundtree works as a spokesman for both the Komen Foundation and a prostate cancer charity called Know Your Score.
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