Jolie’s brave health decisions teach us a valuable lesson

Sophia Bi, Kettle Mag, Angelina Jolie, cancer, surgery, health, celebrity, ovaries, mastectomy, salpingo-oophorectomy, menopause
Written by Sophia Bi

True role models are those who possess the qualities that we would like to have. May it be their behaviour, example, or successes, we all have a person we admire, and mine is Angelina Jolie. Last week, on the 24th March, the actress, activist, mother, and philanthropist made headlines all over the world when she revealed that she has had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to prevent cancer. The 39-year-old actress published a lengthy opinion piece, titled ‘Angelina Jolie Pitt: Diary of a Surgery’ in the New York Times explaining her decision.

Making the right decisions for your health

In May 2013, Jolie had her breasts surgically removed in a procedure called a double mastectomy. This is something that she opted to have after learning she had a genetic predisposition, with an 87 percent chance of developing breast cancer. Jolie’s mother died of cancer at the age of 56, and her grandmother and aunt also died of the same disease. 

After a second health scare, Jolie announced in her op-ed last week that she had decided more surgery was the best option for her. This recent surgery in which she got her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed means that she has entered early menopause and will not be able to have any more children in the future. The actress explained that her decision was made primarily for the sake of her children, stating that ‘I know my children will never have to say, “Mom died of ovarian cancer.”’

In her article for the New York Times, Jolie explained that a mutation in the BRCA1 gene gave her an estimated 87 per cent risk of breast cancer and 50 per cent risk of ovarian cancer. She wrote that ‘to my relief, I still had the option of removing my ovaries and fallopian tubes and I chose to do it’. The actress also mentioned that there are other, non-surgical options out there for women, such as birth control pills, alternative treatments and frequent checks-ups. She emphasised that ‘the most important thing is to learn about the options and choose what is right for you personally’.

Jolie demonstrates the importance of guarding against cancer

According to statistics from Cancer Research UK, ovarian cancer is the 5th most common type of cancer among women in the UK. Women who are at risk but hope to have children in the future can protect themselves by going for regular check-ups and blood tests from their GP. Ovarian cancer is a nasty disease and it’s very hard to treat and diagnose, with statistics showing that for women with the same genetic mutation as Jolie, the risk of developing ovarian cancer is 50 per cent. However, if you get frequent check-ups and the disease is spotted early, your ovaries can be removed before the cancer spreads, reducing the risk.

I have seen a lot of people in my life, some close and some not, have a cancer scare. Luckily for me, no one in my family history has had cancer, but that does not mean that I can ignore it. I eat healthy foods, do outdoor exercise, use sun cream all the time and take some beta-carotene supplements to guard against having any cancer in the near future. Angelina Jolie’s brave decision to be open to everyone about her increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer helps to draw attention to the difficult decisions faced by women who have the same BRCA gene mutation, and serves as a valuable reminder to get checked out regularly.