Angelina Jolie Makes a Life-Saving Medical Decision

I usually pay little attention to celebrities, but I’ve been thinking on and off about actress Angelina Jolie since Tuesday morning when I read about herádecision to have a double mastectomy.

As 37-year-old Jolie writes in the New York Times, her mother died at 56 after fighting cancer for more than a decade. Jolie decided on preventative surgery after learning that she carries the ô’faulty’ gene, BRCA1,” which vastly increases her risk for having breast cancer and ovarian cancer. Doctors had told her that she had an 87 percent of developing breast cancer and a 50 percent chance of developing ovarian cancer.

Jolie chose to be proactive and minimize her risk as much as possible, with a preventative double mastectomy. She details the three months of medical procedures she has been undergoing since February 2, starting with “nipple delay,” then an eight-hour surgery to remove breast tissue, then reconstructive surgery. Her treatment was carried out at theáPink Lotus Breast Center, with her partner, Brad Pitt, present “for every minute of the surgeries.”

As a result of the surgery, Jolie’s chances of developing breast cancer are now less than 5 percent. Noting that “cancer is still a word that strikes fear into peopleĺs hearts, producing a deep sense of powerlessness,” she stresses how crucial it is to have the gene test foráBRCA1 and BRCA2, especially for women whose families (like my family) have a history of breast cancer and of ovarian cancer. She does note that the testing costs more than $3,000 in the U.S. and therefore “remains an obstacle for many women.”

While writing about highly personal matters, Jolie acknowledges that she is, well, very much in the public eye and, as Hadley Freeman writes in the Guardian, precisely because of the part of her anatomy that she is now without. Jolie is certainly not the first actress or celebrity to have a mastectomy and speak publicly about it; Lynn Redgrave and Kathy Bates have too. But Jolie is a woman whose body has long been “scrutinized by the media”; indeed, the “most personal elements of her life have long been part of the pop-cultural discourse, from her troubled relationship with her difficult father, to her children, to her marriages.”

By writing about “my medical choice,” Jolie has shown not only that she has been able to “take on and take control of” a major challenge to her health, but to be in charge of how this news is presented to the public.

There’s another reason Jolie must be applauded. She does note that there are “many wonderful holistic doctors working on alternatives to surgery” but she herself has made her life-changing, and body-altering, choice based on what some have called “traditional” medicine and science. That is, Jolie has not tried anything experimental, “alternative” or based in pseudoscience. In going public about a major health issue, she hasámade it clear that, yes, we need to take full advantage of what modern medicine and scientific research have to offer us, inástriking contrast to too many celebrities such as the actress Jenny McCarthy who, a few years ago, campaigned actively in support of the unscientific and misguided notion that vaccines could be linked to autism.

Jolie is using her celebrity for, I think it is fair to say, the public good and not only to urge women to undergo testing as early as they might. She has also made a powerful case for science and what it can do, all while emphasizing that having had a double mastectomy means that she does not “feel any less of a woman.” Rather, she writes,

“I made a strong choice that in no way diminishes my femininity.”

Indeed, Jolie’s decision, made very much with thoughts of her family and certainly of her six children first and foremost, speaks worlds about not only femininity but about motherhood and what it means to be a woman and a human being seeking to have a good and long life surrounded by those she loves.

I am hopeful that Jolie will continue to speak up and advocate for more funding and research for gene tests for breast cancer and for treatment. I am also hopeful that that the cameras will continue to be focused on her, not because she’s a celebrity, but because she has many, many years ahead.


Photo via Wikimedia Commons

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Loesje vB
Loesje vB2 years ago

She is a great mom.

Mary B.
Mary B.2 years ago

Patty B / patty seem to post once a month (20th seems to be popular) Are you in a place where you have to earn your FB and computer time? Institution? Incarcerated?.....the topic is about having preventative decisions knowing you may be at a very high chance of (in this case) breast cancer.....and it is about Angelina Jolie and her journey......BTW, I merely said to you that your posts don't make much the post of today (August 20 / 13 @ 10:49)

Teresa B.
Teresa B.2 years ago

Wow, Patty B/patty b. Now you have solid proof that there is a conspiracy theory against you. Fight your best, scream to the heavens. What a shame that James M W's posts were reported to C2 before you changed you decided to make 2 accounts. I'm sure you know that is against C2's Terms of Service and CoC.

Pity that your ECT isn't working. Sometimes it just doesn't. Next time, go for the lobotomy.

Mary B.
Mary B.2 years ago

Patty B or ?... your post on July 20 / @ 1:26 makes NO sense at all.... also, VERY inappropriate to name another Care 2 member in such a post.....Can you try to remember just what this article is about?

Patty B.
Patty brey2 years ago

Dr. Kevin Barrett wrote this article: New Studies: Conspiracy Theorists Sane; Government Dupes Crazy, Hostile. A must read. He states that people who even use the word conspiracy theorists are insulting and prey to "confirmation bias" seeking out information that confirms their pre-existing beliefs , while using irrational mechanisms to avoid conflicting information. Sounds like Theresa.

Patty B.
Patty brey2 years ago

One comment: Check out this article: New Study: Conspiracy Theorists Sane: Government Dupes Crazy, Hostile.

Teresa B.
Teresa B.2 years ago

But Mary, if you remember (since this discussion died off more than a month ago), you, me, Magdalen, and several other people were "informed" by Patty that we were all the same person because we had the same last initial : ) Despite that, she was sending her lawyer all over the globe to sue us all. Was rather interesting circular logic.

Teresa B.
Teresa B.2 years ago

James M W,

You're not going to bait me into an argument. It's a pity you can't read all of Patty's posts that were so out in left field that C2 deleted them. Have a good life.

James Mullen W.
patty brey2 years ago

Thought Monica M. had great ideas!

Sylvia M.
Sylvia M.2 years ago

I've always felt a little mixed about Angelina-she seemed a little standoffish with a personality that totally didn't mesh with Brad's. BUT....she is a UN Goodwill Ambassador, and that means something to me. Her medical decision to have the masectomy, no vanity at all weighing in her decision, humanizes her even more to me, so I guess I am becoming more of a fan. When she does speak on an issue, it is with intelligence and research behind her, so I take note. OK, Angie, I'm listening.