Angelina Jolie has undergone surgery to remove her ovaries and fallopian tubes, causing her to begin menopause, after a terrifying cancer scare.
The actress, director, and U.N. envoy (who underwent a preventative mastectomy in 2013) wrote a frank and moving op-ed piece in Tuesday, March 24's The New York Times in which she described the horrifying moment a doctor called to say her yearly cancer-screening blood test showed inflammatory markers which could be a sign of early ovarian cancer.
"I went through what I imagine thousands of other women have felt," mom-of-six Jolie writes. "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," she continues.
"I called my husband in France, who was on a plane within hours. 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."
That same day she went to see the surgeon who had treated her mother, Marcheline Bertrand (who died of ovarian cancer in 2007). Initial examinations looked promising but Brad Pitt's wife was forced to wait five days for further test results.
"I passed those five days in a haze, attending my children’s soccer game, and working to stay calm and focused," she writes. "The day of the results came. The PET/CT scan looked clear, and the tumor 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," she explains.
Jolie is keen to point out that her decision is not solely due to the fact she carries a BRCA1 gene mutation and advises other women in a similar situation to her, that there are alternatives to a "leap to surgery.”
But for Jolie, 39, medical advice was unanimous and she underwent surgery (a laparoscopic bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy) last week. Pathology revealed a small benign tumor on one ovary, but no signs of cancer.
Despite keeping her uterus, and receiving hormone replacements, the actress has now entered menopause. "I will not be able to have any more children, and I expect some physical changes,” she explains. “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.”
Aware her actions could encourage other women to follow suit, the Maleficent star talks about the options available to younger women, particularly those who have not yet had children. "Their situation is far harder than mine," she acknowledges, advising there are surgical options available that enable you to keep your ovaries, that could be investigated.
"It is not easy to make these decisions," the actress concludes. "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.”