Beauty. Motherhood. Power couple. Oscar winner. All of these words have been attached in some way to Angelina Jolie. However, the female half of Brangelina has been making news lately for different reasons than the usual. Instead of discussing her choice of clothes or charity, reporters have focused on another story: The very real possibility Jolie faces of cancer.
On March 24, the New York Times published an op-ed piece by Angelina Jolie Pitt regarding a recent surgery she underwent. Two years ago, Jolie wrote another op-ed piece about another related surgery, a double mastectomy. Jolie’s decision to receive preventative surgery has been all over the news, and her choice to reveal and discuss her decision are very important, changing the way we as a society view cancer and womanhood.
What We Know About Cancer
When the average person considers women’s cancer, they likely think of breast cancer. Angelina herself feared this particular form of cancer. On April 27 of 2013, she finished “three months of medical procedures” revolving around a double masectomy to prevent this form of cancer. This year, Jolie underwent a less complicated surgery that involved removing her fallopian tubes and ovaries in order to prevent ovarian cancer. Since multiple women in her family have died from cancer, Angelina underwent tests. As she stated in her most recent editorial piece in the New York Times, “A simple blood test had revealed that I carried a mutation in the BRCA1 gene. It gave me an estimated 87 percent risk of breast cancer and a 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer.”
A Hollywood A-lister, Angelina is lucky to have the means to undergo the genetic testing required to discover whether or not she is likely to develop these cancers. In her 2013 article, she acknowledged, “The cost of testing for BRCA1 and BRCA2, at more than $3,000 in the United States, remains an obstacle for many women.” For a lot of women, genetic testing just isn’t an option, and insurance often won’t even cover it unless you’ve already been diagnosed with cancer. Beyond that, people can develop cancer without having a family history or genetic background of it.
The discussion of cancer attached to such a famous name leads to the average person learning more about the disease. Breast cancer is a horrible illness and something Angelina herself worried about. However, out of all women’s cancers, while it’s the most common, it’s second deadly. By speaking up about her risk of ovarian cancer, Jolie brought this rarer but significantly more deadly disease into the conversation.
Any cancer, and any death related to cancer, is horrible. But Jolie did American women a service in March by bringing ovarian cancer into the conversation and by continuing the dialogue about preventative healthcare.
What We Think About Cancer
Cancer – it’s that tragic, terrifying disease that has likely affected someone you know. If it hasn’t, you’ve read about it in a book or watched a tearjerker movie about it. The disease claims 7.6 million lives each year. In one day alone, 1,500 Americans are diagnosed with cancer.
Despite the fact that the disease is so commonplace, for most of us, it’s hard to imagine the disease really hitting home. If you haven’t had a friend or family member fighting cancer or if you haven’t been a victim yourself, it’s almost impossible to imagine receiving the diagnosis. Though the average American doesn’t know Angelina Jolie Pitt personally, we all know of her. We all know of her role as a mother and a wife. Her achievements within her career and on a more global scale are well known to just about every person with access to cable or the internet. By speaking out about her preventative measures against cancer, Jolie made the disease relatable to the average person. Whether this changes how we view cancer or not, it has brought topics about preventative health to the table.
If a Hollywood superstar fears cancer, that creates more incentive for people like you and me to self-examine our breasts monthly, to Google the symptoms of ovarian, cervix, and uterine cancer, to research how to donate to causes that fund research towards cancer. Jolie knew what she was doing when she updated the world on her procedures, and I thank her for doing just that.
How We View Femininity
After Angelina updated the world on her latest surgery in the New York Times, every news channel exploded with a story on her. Each station interviewed a doctor, asking what Jolie was likely going through now that her ovaries and fallopian tubes had been removed. Even though Angelina is only thirty-nine, in her own words, the effects of her surgery “are more severe. It puts a woman into forced menopause.”
In our current society, there’s a stigma associated with menopause. After her childbearing years, people often view a woman as less feminine. That being said, one of the reigning sex symbols of the 2000s is clearly Angelina Jolie. In her 2013 op-ed piece, Angelina wrote after her masectomy, “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.”
By coming out about her surgery, Angelina has shown that no matter her situation, her age, her parts, her health, a woman can be sexy, sensual, and beautiful. Over the past few days alone since her most recent article, Jolie has inspired me and I’m sure countless others. Cancer is not a death sentence, nor is it a “no longer sexy” sentence. Every woman deserves to feel radiant and beautiful, no matter what she is dealing with or where she stands in life. For coming out with this story, Jolie will always be one of my personal heroes.
A note on this piece: In 2013, one of my best friends from high school was diagnosed with ovarian and uterine cancer at the young age of 23.
Thankfully, she has been in remission for well over a year. We need more people like Angelina – and like you – to speak out about cancer, especially silent ones like ovarian. Together, we can break the silence!
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