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Angelina Jolie made the brave decision to have her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed as a preventative measure. In an op-ed for The New York Times published Tuesday, titled “Diary of a Surgery,” the actress-director explained that she had the surgery last week because she carries a gene that gave her a 50 percent risk of developing ovarian cancer.
Jolie had a preventive double mastectomy in 2013 to reduce her risk of getting breast cancer. The Unbroken director–who lost her mother, grandmother and aunt to ovarian cancer–received a phone call from her doctor two weeks ago with results from a recent blood test.
The test showed markers that could be a sign of early cancer.
“I went through what I imagine thousands of other women have felt,” the Academy Award winner wrote. “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.”
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Jolie “had been planning this for some time,” as “it is a less complex surgery than the mastectomy, but its effects are more severe. It puts a woman into forced menopause. So I was readying myself physically and emotionally, discussing options with doctors, researching alternative medicine, and mapping my hormones for estrogen or progesterone replacement.” After the test results came back, Jolie called her husband, Brad Pitt, who hopped on a plane to meet her ASAP. “The beautiful thing about such moments in life is that there is so much clarity. You know what you live for and what matters. It is polarizing, and it is peaceful,” the Maleficent star wrote.
That same afternoon, Jolie saw the same surgeon who had treated her mother Marcheline Bertrand, who died of ovarian cancer in 2007. “She teared up when she saw me: ‘You look just like her.’ I broke down,” the movie star recalls. “But we smiled at each other and agreed we were there to deal with any problem, so ‘let’s get on with it.'”
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“Nothing in the examination or ultrasound was concerning. I was relieved that if it was cancer, it was most likely in the early stages. If it was somewhere else in my body, I would know in five days,” the actress explained. “I passed those five days in a haze, attending my children’s soccer game, and working to stay calm and focused.”
Jolie was relieved that the test was negative. “I was full of happiness, although the radioactive tracer meant I couldn’t hug my children. There was still a chance of early stage cancer, but that was minor compared with a full-blown tumor. To my relief, I still had the option of removing my ovaries and fallopian tubes and I chose to do it.”
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After weighing her options, just as she did before getting a preventative double mastectomy in 2013, she decided to go forward with the surgery. “The most important thing is to learn about the options and choose what is right for you personally,” the actress and humanitarian stressed.
“In my case, the Eastern and Western doctors I met agreed that surgery to remove my tubes and ovaries was the best option, because on top of the BRCA gene, three women in my family have died from cancer,” Jolie wrote. “My doctors indicated I should have preventive surgery about a decade before the earliest onset of cancer in my female relatives.”
“My mother’s ovarian cancer was diagnosed when she was 49. I’m 39.”
“Last week, I had the procedure: a laparoscopic bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy,” explained Jolie, who is a proud mother of six children: Maddox Jolie-Pitt, Pax Jolie-Pitt, Zahara Jolie-Pitt, Shiloh-Jolie Pott, Knox Jolie-Pitt and Vivienne Jolie-Pitt.
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There was a small benign tumor on one ovary, but no signs of cancer in any of the tissues. Jolie kept her uterus because there is no history of uterine cancer in her family. She now wears a small clear patch that delivers bio-identical estrogen and has a progesterone IUD inserted in her uterus that will help her maintain a hormonal balance.
“It is not possible to remove all risk, and the fact is I remain prone to cancer. I will look for natural ways to strengthen my immune system. 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.’ Regardless of the hormone replacements I’m taking, I am now in menopause,” the Girl, Interrupted star wrote. “I will not be able to have any more children, and I expect some physical changes. 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.”
Jollie, who is also a U.N. envoy, concluded: “It is not easy to make these decisions. But it is possible to take control and tackle head-on any health issue. You can seek advice, learn about the options and make choices that are right for you. Knowledge is power.”