In a beautifully heartfelt, honest and powerful op-ed for The New York Times, actress and six-time mama Angelina Jolie reveals her decision to undergo a double mastectomy: motherhood. The star, mom to Maddox, Pax, Zahara, Shiloh, Vivienne and Knox, details that she carries the “faulty” gene, BRCA1, which sharply increases her risk of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
Jolie writes that her children have often asked if they will lose her to the same illness that took away their grandmother, Jolie's mom, Marcheline Bertrand. It was this that prompted the actress to undergo a preventative double mastectomy after genetic tests revealed that she had a heightened risk of developing breast cancer. The first of the surgeries began in February and on April 27th, Jolie finished up the last of the three months worth of medical procedures involved with the mastectomies.
Coming forward to share her story in a first-hand narrative, she stated that she wanted other women to benefit from her experience, writing that "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."
"I wanted to write this," she says, "to tell other women that the decision to have a mastectomy was not easy. But it is one I am very happy that I made. My chances of developing breast cancer have dropped from 87 percent to under 5 percent." But the proudest moment for Jolie comes in telling her children that they don't need to fear they will lose their own mother to breast cancer. It's similar to the feelings that new mom Kara DioGuardi shared when she revealed that she also underwent the same preventative surgery to ensure a happier, healthier life with her son, Greyson.
When discussing her scars and the impact the surgery has had on her children, Jolie writes that they see "nothing that makes them uncomfortable. They can see my small scars and that’s it. Everything else is just Mommy, the same as she always was. And they know that I love them and will do anything to be with them as long as I can." Which I find absolutely heartwarming and heartbreaking: how terrifying it must be for her children to wonder if their mommy will be gone too soon, before they're ready, but also how touching that their mother has done all that she can to make sure that won't happen.
What Jolie's op-ed also goes on to show is just how entirely selfless motherhood can be. Of course, the decision she made was made as much for herself as for her children and her partner, Brad Pitt , but what if Jolie had not lost her mother so early on? It's in our nature to want to keep ourselves healthy for as long as possible and to enjoy life to the fullest — but bringing children into this world is a whole 'nother responsibility. That sense of loss that Jolie felt is something that she clearly never wants her own children to feel. And it's not just because you're a mother that you feel that. I believe it's a feminine instinct. Any woman with a mother of her own, who is a mother, who has a sister or a best friend that's a mother can see why this decision is ultimately a no-brainer.
After reading Jolie's exclusively personal story, I found myself wondering if I would be able to take the same steps — as I'm sure all women and mothers are asking themselves. The answer for me was, without a shadow of a doubt, yes, I would; so I find Jolie's honesty all the more important. It is said, so often, that there aren't enough positive role models around for our growing daughters; that they need women with substance, women with honor, women who value their worth, their bodies and above all else, themselves. Say what you will about Angelina Jolie but in this moment, there is no finer role model for our daughters and frankly, no finer role model for ourselves.
Additionally, for those who wonder how she feels as a woman after having the surgeries, Jolie adds, "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." Again — I 100 percent agree.
But Jolie's note is as much written to women as it is to mothers. She pens, "For any woman reading this, I hope it helps you to know you have options. I want to encourage every woman, especially if you have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, to seek out the information and medical experts who can help you through this aspect of your life, and to make your own informed choices."
And if there is something to be taken away from Jolie's difficult decision, it's just as she says: Life comes with many challenges. The ones that should not scare us are the ones we can take on and take control of.
Moms, weigh in: Would you be able to make this type of decision?