Huffpost Women
THE BLOG

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Bonnie Fuller Headshot

Angelina Jolie's Double Mastectomy Revelation Will Save Women's Lives

Posted: Updated:
Print
Getty Images
Getty Images

Angelina Jolie, your honest, articulate editorial will help women overcome the fear of taking a radical step that can prevent them from dying from breast cancer.

Angelina Jolie, you could have decided to be totally private about undergoing a double mastectomy and breast reconstruction surgeries.

Angelina Jolie's Brave and Beautiful Decision

No one would have been the least bit critical had you decided that your ordeal was strictly a family matter.

In fact, part of your image as a hugely successful actress has been your enormous sex appeal. So you could have viewed publicity about your surgery as potentially harmful to your career.

But Angelina, that is not the woman you are. No, instead you decided that your commitment to your six children, to the legacy of your beloved mother and your desire to save the lives of other women far outweighed your need for personal privacy.

That is a hugely commendable decision. "Angelina Jolie will 100 percent save lives," says Myra Biblowit, president of The Breast Cancer Research Foundation, which has raised $440 million for breast cancer research. "She's approached this is such a positive way. Without a doubt she will empower women to ask questions and explore and make knowledgeable, thoughtful decisions for themselves."

Angelina Courageously Put Motherhood First

Your beautifully written op-ed piece in the New York Times on May 14 revealed your terrible grief over losing your mother, Marcheline Bertrand, when she was only 56. You were determined to ensure that your own six precious children wouldn't have to experience that premature loss.

You revealed that you were tested and found to carry a "faulty" gene, BRCA1, which increased your risk of contracting breast cancer by 87 percent, and ovarian cancer by 50 percent.

Your mother died of ovarian cancer -- a particularly aggressive cancer -- after battling it for ten years.

"Once I knew that this was my reality, I decided to be proactive and to minimize the risk as much I could," you wrote. You decided to start with your breasts because your risk was higher and the surgery was "more complex."

You said that you finished three months of medical procedures involving the mastectomies and reconstructive surgeries on April 27.

It has only been two and a half weeks since you finished your procedures, and clearly you feel a sense of urgency about alerting other women who may not realize that they are "living under the shadow of cancer."

"I am writing about it now because I hope that other women can benefit from my experience ... 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," you wrote.

Angelina, You Are Now Healthier & Happier

Angelina, at 37, you have now reduced your chance of contracting breast cancer to under five percent -- "I can tell my children that they don't need to fear they will lose me to breast cancer," you wrote.

That must give great comfort to your beloved children, who had asked you to explain why "mommy's mommy" had passed away, while also expressing their fears that they could lose you too.

Now, it is true that only about five to 10 percent of all breast cancers are caused by mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.

These are genes that are known as tumor suppressors. A woman's risk of developing both breast and / or ovarian cancers is greatly increased if she inherits a mutation of one of those genes, rendering them less capable of acting as tumor suppressors, according to the American Cancer Society.

Families like yours, in which a lot of the woman are struck with breast or ovarian cancer -- or both -- often carry this gene, which greatly increases the risk of developing both breast and ovarian cancers.

Unfortunately, the types of breast cancer that women with these genes are prone to can often be very aggressive as well.

Angelina, just the fact that you have revealed your situation will encourage other women who have a family history of breast and ovarian cancer to get genetic testing.

Angelina, You Reassured Women: I'm Still A Woman & You Will Be, Too

But, you went even further in addressing the fears that women facing this situation would have -- their worries about becoming less attractive, especially to their partners.

"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," you wrote. That will be so reassuring to women facing a similar situation and decision.

And Angelina, everyone knows that you are engaged to one of the world's most gorgeous and famous men, Brad Pitt. We're so glad to learn that he has been "loving and supportive" and was with you at the Pink Lotus Breast Cancer in Beverly Hills 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," you wrote.

Women who have breast cancer certainly worry that their mates will find them less sexy after a mastectomy, so it was very thoughtful of you to address this and to share Brad's support.

However, the fact is that most men are far more concerned about losing their mate and the mother of their children, period. The fact that she will lose a breast!or two is really inconsequential!

A Big Thank You To Angelina Jolie

Angelina, a giant thank you for your courage in writing your very personal and honest editorial in the hopes of saving women's lives.

Although you didn't specifically address it, it seems that you may also have your ovaries removed at some point, to drop your 50 percent risk of developing ovarian cancer to under five percent.

I myself had a friend lose her mother to ovarian cancer, and despite urging, chose not to have her own ovaries removed. Unfortunately, she did develop aggressive ovarian cancer -- before even reaching the age of 40 -- and she also passed away.

Angelina, your editorial will make many women wonder whether they should have genetic testing to see if they are also likely to develop breast cancer.

"Red flags for hereditary breast or ovarian cancer are if women have relatives who had breast cancer at an early age, if multiple female relatives have had breast or ovarian cancer, if a male relative had breast cancer and if you are from Ashkenazi Jewish descent and have relatives who have suffered from breast cancer," explains Jessica Heinzmann, a certified genetic counselor at the Carol G. Simon Cancer Center in New Jersey. "You can have testing done once you're 18 and generally we start increased surveillance for breast cancer at 25."

Unfortunately, getting genetic testing for these genes can be costly, but I suspect that with your and Brad's well-known philanthropic generosity, perhaps you will establish a fund which covers genetic testing for financially challenged women. Also, there are some financial assistance programs for testing already, so women should not feel discouraged from having testing even if they don't think they can afford it.

In any case, thank you Angelina, for sharing your personal experience. You will definitely save other women's lives.

For more celebrity news, visit HollywoodLife.com

- Bonnie Fuller