3 Ways to Be an Empowered Patient

No, Angelina Jolie isn’t telling you to have preventive surgery. Her message is far more important than that.

When Ms. Jolie used a New York Times op-ed to announce her double mastectomy in 2013, she sparked a wave of opinions, both pro and con. This year, she wrote about having her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed. She was not diagnosed with cancer. In both cases, the surgeries were meant to prevent cancer from developing in the future.

She explained that she carried a specific genetic mutation that put her at great risk of certain cancers. Her mother fought cancer for a decade before dying at the age of 56. The actress chose to go public because she wanted other women to benefit from what she’d learned.

Preventive surgery is a drastic step, one that does not come lightly, and Jolie’s decisions are not without controversy. But here’s the thing: she’s not saying that her decisions are right for everybody. She’s not claiming to know what’s right for anyone else. She does not pretend to be a doctor. Her message is one of patient empowerment. She is encouraging others to be proactive about their health and to seek out good information so they can make the best decisions for themselves. That’s a message worth sharing.

3 Takeaways from Angelina Jolie’s Medical Decisions, and they all have to do with patient empowerment

1. Patient empowerment means doing your homework

I know from my own health issues how important it is to take the lead in your own health. I haven’t been to medical school, so I don’t kid myself that I’m a medical expert. I’m not. But I’m a health writer and a natural-born researcher, so I can’t help myself. If my doctor recommends a test or a medication, you can bet I’m going to ask some questions and do the research, and I won’t hesitate to seek a second opinion, or a third if necessary. All the research in the world still doesn’t make me a doctor, but it does help me ask the right questions of the right doctors, and sometimes, asking the right question makes all the difference.

2. Patient empowerment means being mindful of your own body

Doctors and nurses have it all over me when it comes to medicine. But no one knows my body better than I do. I’ve been living in it for a long time. I know how it normally looks and feels. I know how certain foods and exercises affect me. I know my health history and what tests I’ve had before and why. I’ve frequently switched doctors due to relocation or health insurance changes or because it was simply a bad fit. It’s my responsibility to share information with new doctors to cue them in to my needs. It’s up to me to relay my concerns and question their recommendations. Good doctors expect us to do that.

3. Patient empowerment means making tough decisions based the facts at hand and what’s right for you ó and not letting others make you feel bad about that

Jolie’s public statements got people talking and plenty disagree with her decisions. I have no opinion on her situation because I don’t live in her body. She wasn’t pressured into having radical surgery. She did her homework. She spoke to the experts and she discussed it with her family. It couldn’t have been easy, but the decision was hers to make. I can’t walk in her shoes so I won’t second guess her. I’ve also been taken to task for certain medical decisions, but I don’t let that concern me too much. They’re my shoes and I’ll walk in them.

Patient empowerment is about partnering with your medical team. They know a lot you don’t. You know plenty they don’t. In the end, it comes down to informed choice. Extraordinarily difficult and personal choice.

Jolie, like other women who have made these choices, knows that she hasn’t eliminated her risk of cancer, though she’s lowered it significantly. I applaud her proactive stance and her willingness to share her story to encourage others to pay attention to their health.

Related Reading
6 Things To Know About Triple-Negative Breast Cancer
How Much Does Family History Affect Breast Cancer Risk?
5 Things Your Doctor Won’t Tell You Unless You Ask

Angelina Jolie Photo: Gage Skidmore under Creative Commons License

81 comments

W. C
W. C11 months ago

Thanks.

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Chiara D'agostino

I applaud Angelina too, for speaking about her condition and brining awareness to women's health and empowering women.
www.beautythroughthebeast.com

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Magdalena J.
Past Member 2 years ago

Thank you!

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus C2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jim Ven
Jim Ven2 years ago

thanks for the article.

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Sen Senz
Sayenne H2 years ago

Angelinaaaa! Should live.

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Sen Senz
Sayenne H2 years ago

Thanks for the info

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Lynn Rubal
Lynn Rubal2 years ago

Thanks.

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Michael Y.
Michael Yuz2 years ago

A person’s health is too important not get a second opinion. Statistics show that medical errors are now considered to be a third leading cause of death and up to 400K people die a year as a result. Additionally, many surgeries and procedures performed are not indicated and can be avoided. A second opinion can possibly help reduce the risk of being affected by a medical error and can help avoid a dangerous surgery or procedure. https://secondopinions.com medical specialists provide second opinions in all areas of medicine and interpret all kinds of imaging studies such us MRIs, CTs, X-Rays. The prices are extremely affordable. Secondopinions.com has been on the news throughout the country. Please watch this recently aired TV News segments featuring SecondOpinions.com which address medical errors and emphasize the importance of obtaining second opinions: https://secondopinions.com/mediaroom/television-interviews.html.

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Fran away F.

Noted, thank you.

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