Walking hand-in-hand with her husband Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie looked like a woman without a care in the world. Calm and composed, any rumours of the married couple’s bickering and arguing melted away as they watched daughters Zahara (10) and Shiloh (8) play soccer. However, the Oscar winner’s mind was far from focused on the game or her handsome husband – Angelina was instead thinking about tests she’d had just days earlier, and the results that would determine whether or not she could have children naturally again.
Almost two years ago, Angelina bravely opened up about having a preventative double mastectomy. Because of a genetic abnormality, the mutated BRCA1 gene, she had an 87% chance of developing breast cancer and a 50% risk of ovarian cancer. Ange’s mother and grandmother both died after battling ovarian cancer, and her aunt Debbie Martin died from breast cancer just three months after Angelina’s operation.
She always stipulated it was only a matter of time before she also had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed, but now, two months shy of her 40th birthday, it was time to act. In a second feature penned by Angelina in the New York Times, the mother of six openly discussed the complex surgery, a laparoscopic bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy, which has forced her into menopause at 39. “The change” comes 10 years earlier for Angelina than it does for most women – the average age is 51 – and she expects she may suffer hot flashes, night sweats, skin changes and sleep issues.
But, most importantly, she tells, “I will not be able to have any more children. “I feel at ease,” Angelina continues, “with whatever will come, not because I am strong but because this is a part of life. “It’s nothing to be feared.
I feel deeply for women for whom this moment comes very early in life, before they’ve had children. “Their situation is far harder than mine,” adds the mother of three biological children with Brad, Shiloh and six-year-old twins Vivienne and Knox, as well as three adopted ones, sons Maddox (13) and Pax (11) and daughter Zahara (10).
Although Angelina and Brad had discussed the surgery since the first preventative procedure in May 2013, the Salt star still thought she had plenty of time.
But a call from her doctor last month changed everything. Her blood tests were clear for ovarian cancer, but some “inflammatory markers” were elevated, which could be an early sign of the disease. Her doctor also said the test had a 50 to 75% chance of missing ovarian cancer in the first stages. “I went through what I imagine thousands of women have felt,” she recalls. “I told myself to stay calm, 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 then saw the surgeon who treated her mother – Marcheline Bertrand – before she died at 56. The examination and ultrasound did not reveal a tumour, but if cancer was anywhere else, she’d know in five days. “I passed those days in a haze, attending my children’s soccer game and working to stay calm and focused.” Although the tests were negative, because of her history, there was still a chance of cancer so Angelina went ahead with surgery to remove her ovaries and fallopian tubes.
She kept her uterus, as uterine cancer does not run in her family. “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.’” Brad has again been her biggest support. He cut short a trip to France to be by her side, just as he did in 2013 when she had her double mastectomy.
“We’ve been through so much,” Angelina said in 2014. “We’ve gotten a lot closer, which I think happens naturally with raising a family together... You have this person who really knows you, and you know them so well. You’re not lovers or boyfriend and girlfriend as much as you are a family.”
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