“Angelina Jolie” and “double mastectomy” are two sets of words we hoped never to hear in the same sentence, but so it goes. Jolie has elected to undergo, and subsequently underwent, a double mastectomy, and this because she took a cancer test and found that she had the defective BRCA1 gene, which is associated with a 65 percent likelihood of its carrier developing breast cancer. In her case, she was told she had as high as an 87 percent chance of developing breast cancer. Her own mother died of cancer.
“I can tell my children that they don’t need to fear they will lose me to breast cancer,” she wrote, as the Guardian reported. “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.”
It is being called a brave move, first of all for Jolie to get the test that determines if she has the unwanted gene – something women are encouraged to do if there is a high rate of breast cancer in their family – and secondly to actually get the surgery, given that her public image is so closely tied to her appearance.
“It is excellent, because it is the highest profile you can get for it,” said Wendy Watson, the founder of the UK’s National Hereditary Breast Cancer Helpline. “It raises the profile for other women to look to if they have a family history and would benefit from being screened more frequently, or having surgery or having a genetic test. She probably feels that undergoing the operation is common sense but it probably does take a certain amount of courage to face it.”
Part of her courage was having Brad Pitt there to help her through it. As she said, regarding Brad’s support through the operation: “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.”