About two years ago, Angelina Jolie wrote an op-ed in The New York Times explaining that she had recently undergone a preventive double mastectomy, to reduce her risk of cancer, after she found out she carries a BRCA1 gene mutation, increasing her chances of getting breast and ovarian cancer (Jolie’s mother, and two other women in her family, died of cancer). Tuesday morning, the Times published a second op-ed by Jolie, in which she detailed her recent choice to have her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed, as a similar preventive measure (Jolie had written in the first op-ed that this was something she was considering). The decision to remove her ovaries was made after a series of recent tests revealed she could be in the early stages of ovarian cancer.
“I went through what I imagine thousands of other women have felt,” Jolie writes, describing her initial reaction to the test indicating she could have ovarian cancer. “I told myself to stay calm, to be strong, and that I had no reason to think I wouldn’t live to see my children grow up and to meet my grandchildren.”
She writes that she called her husband, Brad Pitt, who was in France and immediately flew to her side. “The beautiful thing about such moments in life is that there is so much clarity,” she writes. “You know what you live for and what matters. It is polarizing, and it is peaceful.”
Jolie went to see the same doctor who treated her mother, who died of ovarian cancer in 2007 (the doctor told Jolie, “You look just like her”). She then waited five days for the test results, which eventually came back negative. “There was still a chance of early stage cancer, but that was minor compared with a full-blown tumor,” she explains. “To my relief, I still had the option of removing my ovaries and fallopian tubes and I chose to do it.”
Jolie is now in menopause as a result of the procedure, and is taking hormone replacements. “I will not be able to have any more children, and I expect some physical changes,” she says. “But I feel at ease with whatever will come, not because I am strong but because this is a part of life. It is nothing to be feared.”
She continues, “I feel feminine, and grounded in the choices I am making for myself and my family. I know my children will never have to say, ‘Mom died of ovarian cancer.’”
She also stresses that women should get information about their options and take charge of their health. “The most important thing is to learn about the options and choose what is right for you personally,” she writes.