My heart sank my stomach dropped. I was listening to the top 40 radio station on the way to drop my daughters off at school, when the DJ shared the latest in celebrity gossip -- something about Justin Bieber and a new puppy followed by this: "Angelina Jolie had another electivesurgery, this time removing her ovaries and fallopian tubes, throwing her body into early menopause."
It seemed like there was something a little condescending in his tone, but then again I might just be overly sensitive or defensive because I am Angelina Jolie. Well, not really. Although Angelina and I were born the same year, pregnant at the same time, and both think Brad Pitt is extremely sexy. Also, like Angelina Jolie, I am a mother, a wife, and the carrier of brca1 gene mutation (the breast cancer gene) and like Angelina, I chose a preventative mastectomy (plus reconstruction), oophorectomy (ovary removal surgery) and salpingectomy (fallopian tube removal) to proactively address my cancer risk.
I started my health journey about a year and a half ago with the goal of having all of my surgeries complete by my 40th birthday (which I just celebrated in grand style earlier this month).
Back in August of 2014, I had the mastectomy, and in an eerie twist of fate, it turned out that the removed tissue ended up being cancerous. Following the mastectomy was six weeks of skin expansion. Then in December, I had the final breast reconstruction and two weeks later the oophorectomy and fallopian tube removal surgery.
I chose this path I did because I wanted it to be in my control. I was able to decide when I would have surgery instead of waiting to be told I needed to have it done. I had carried and breastfed two children, my family was complete, and my husband was perfectly okay with sacrificing my breasts over my life. After all, I was trading them in for a bigger pair.
By proactively addressing my cancer risk, I was able to do this according to a timeline that worked for me. Without surgery, I had an 88% chance of developing breast cancer and 60% chance of developing ovarian cancer in my lifetime, a risk I just wasn't comfortable living with, especially as a mother and a wife. I made an informed decision that was right for me and my family.
I am now on the other side, looking back healthy with a really positive future prognosis. I discovered what my daughter defined as my super power: I bounce back from surgery really quickly. I'm happy (at least most of the time) and much of what made my journey difficult, is now over. So yes, things are back to normal, but normal now includes sending my daughter to school in the dead of a New England winter in a spring jacket because I thought it was an unusually hot day. It turned out I was actually suffering from my first hot flash and the poor kid had to borrow a jacket from the school lost and found in order to go out for recess.
Another outcome of my elective surgeries is that I'm left with an insane amount of medical debt. I found out the hard way that I have a $9,000 deductible! Lastly, my body is forever changed: I'm kind of disappointed with the final appearance of my reconstructed breasts, I don’t have ovaries anymore, and my body is chemically altered.
Yet in the end, I have no regrets about the decisions I made, and the process was easier than what I was prepared for. I started pursuing genetic testing prior to Angelina publicly sharing her experience, so while Angelina isn't in any way responsible for the path I took, I'm still grateful Angelina put words like “brca1,” “preventive mastectomy,” and "oophorectomy" in the lexicon of so many people.
So thank you Angelina for being a sexy, strong, and powerful voice for women taking control of their own health. Yes, sexy matters because when you’ve lost your breasts and your production of estrogen, and you know that the sexiest couple alive is facing the same postpreventive surgery relationship, it means everything. I am now and forever Team Angelina.