‘Angel-ina’ Jolie

Lets be straight up here. Angelina Jolie is nothing short of an angel to have put her fears aside and put her beautiful family first by choosing to have an elective double mastectomy. By no means would this have been an easy decision for the well-known actress of such stature.

I came across this article below which was published on May 14, 2013 by the NY Times.

My Medical Choice

By ANGELINA JOLIE

LOS ANGELES

MY MOTHER fought cancer for almost a decade and died at 56. She held out long enough to meet the first of her grandchildren and to hold them in her arms. But my other children will never have the chance to know her and experience how loving and gracious she was.

We often speak of “Mommy’s mommy,” and I find myself trying to explain the illness that took her away from us. They have asked if the same could happen to me. I have always told them not to worry, but the truth is I carry a “faulty” gene, BRCA1, which sharply increases my risk of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer.

My doctors estimated that I had an 87 percent risk of breast cancer and a 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer, although the risk is different in the case of each woman.

Only a fraction of breast cancers result from an inherited gene mutation. Those with a defect in BRCA1 have a 65 percent risk of getting it, on average.

Once I knew that this was my reality, I decided to be proactive and to minimize the risk as much I could. I made a decision to have a preventive double mastectomy. I started with the breasts, as my risk of breast cancer is higher than my risk of ovarian cancer, and the surgery is more complex.

On April 27, I finished the three months of medical procedures that the mastectomies involved. During that time I have been able to keep this private and to carry on with my work.

But I am writing about it now because I hope that other women can benefit from my experience. Cancer is still a word that strikes fear into people’s hearts, producing a deep sense of powerlessness. But today it is possible to find out through a blood test whether you are highly susceptible to breast and ovarian cancer, and then take action.

My own process began on Feb. 2 with a procedure known as a “nipple delay,” which rules out disease in the breast ducts behind the nipple and draws extra blood flow to the area. This causes some pain and a lot of bruising, but it increases the chance of saving the nipple.

Two weeks later I had the major surgery, where the breast tissue is removed and temporary fillers are put in place. The operation can take eight hours. You wake up with drain tubes and expanders in your breasts. It does feel like a scene out of a science-fiction film. But days after surgery you can be back to a normal life.

Nine weeks later, the final surgery is completed with the reconstruction of the breasts with an implant. There have been many advances in this procedure in the last few years, and the results can be beautiful.

I wanted to write this to tell other women that the decision to have a mastectomy was not easy. But it is one I am very happy that I made. My chances of developing breast cancer have dropped from 87 percent to under 5 percent. I can tell my children that they don’t need to fear they will lose me to breast cancer.

It is reassuring that they see nothing that makes them uncomfortable. They can see my small scars and that’s it. Everything else is just Mommy, the same as she always was. And they know that I love them and will do anything to be with them as long as I can. On a personal note, I do not feel any less of a woman. I feel empowered that I made a strong choice that in no way diminishes my femininity.

I am fortunate to have a partner, Brad Pitt, who is so loving and supportive. So to anyone who has a wife or girlfriend going through this, know that you are a very important part of the transition. Brad was at the Pink Lotus Breast Center, where I was treated, for every minute of the surgeries. We managed to find moments to laugh together. We knew this was the right thing to do for our family and that it would bring us closer. And it has.

For any woman reading this, I hope it helps you to know you have options. I want to encourage every woman, especially if you have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, to seek out the information and medical experts who can help you through this aspect of your life, and to make your own informed choices.

I acknowledge that there are many wonderful holistic doctors working on alternatives to surgery. My own regimen will be posted in due course on the Web site of the Pink Lotus Breast Center. I hope that this will be helpful to other women.

Breast cancer alone kills some 458,000 people each year, according to the World Health Organization, mainly in low- and middle-income countries. It has got to be a priority to ensure that more women can access gene testing and lifesaving preventive treatment, whatever their means and background, wherever they live. The cost of testing for BRCA1 and BRCA2, at more than $3,000 in the United States, remains an obstacle for many women.

I choose not to keep my story private because there are many women who do not know that they might be living under the shadow of cancer. It is my hope that they, too, will be able to get gene tested, and that if they have a high risk they, too, will know that they have strong options.

Life comes with many challenges. The ones that should not scare us are the ones we can take on and take control of.

After reading this, I felt very connected to both Angelina and Brad. Adam was also there for me every minute of every treatment and surgery and it was not only hard for me, but even worse for Adam to sit and watch. Though it is a good thing that my mother – nor any other family member has had breast cancer, it would of been a lot easier for me to have been able to have an elective double mastectomy than to have been through what I have. But it cuts both ways. I really hope that women and men can both take a lot from this. Many people may also not know that Christina Applegate also had a double mastectomy to eliminate her chances of developing breast cancer after she also tested positive to the breast cancer gene. Even though Angelina did not have to go through the horrific side of actually having breast cancer and all the extremely unpleasant treatments over a long period of time, I am extremely proud of her to be able to eliminate her chances from 87% of inheriting the BRCA1 mutation gene all the way down to a tiny 5% risk.

All this aside, this brings my attention to the results of my genetic testing. As my results came back as inconclusive, I am feeling unsure.. Am I to get re-tested? They stuffed around a lot with my blood tests and it was all a little bit hazy when the results came in. Even though I had ‘inconclusive’ results, I have still somehow come across a gene mutation. Once I have had my children, I will need to opt for my ovaries to be removed as this is where the cancer could return to.

This also brings me to discuss families. Lately my GP, my Endocrinologist and Oncologist have all been badgering me about when I am going to start a family. Its all very difficult to even be thinking about at the moment. Our wedding is in November this year so thats already one big step let alone the fact I need time to get myself back to being ‘me’ and getting my life on track before I even think about having my own children. I have been told that 35 is my limit and I am turning 31 this year. Can you imagine the pressure of all this? Does this mean wedding – kids – ovaries removed?.. Its all too much so I am trying to just carry on with living each day for what it is and nature will take its course.. Or maybe I will be using IVF. Who knows, but we are not ready. Throughout my illness I always thought how hard it would of been going through everything with young children or babies. I always felt a lot of respect for people I would see with kids going through similar procedures. But I never really thought of it the other way, how about me? I haven’t even been able to have my babies and what if I can’t? There is just so many factors that come along side with having cancer that really grind on your mind. I do believe I will combat it all within time whilst allowing myself to live my life to the fullest each day.

So.. This post was intended to be my praise to the Jolie/Pitt family, so on that note, all my love and I am so glad to see someone so beautiful and inspirational going through with such a difficult procedure whilst maintaing her family life.

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‘Angel-ina’ Jolie