A Personal Perspective
BY MARCIA MOXAM COMRIE
I’m not that interested in the private lives of celebrities, but when a mega entertainer puts his or her health crisis out in an attempt to enlighten and, hopefully, light fire under researchers and government, you can only admire them.
Two years ago, the actress Angelina Jolie announced in a New York Times op-ed that she had just had a double mastectomy in an attempt to prevent breast cancer, a disease to which she was genetically pre-disposed. The world took notice. She then said that she would have to make a decision on a hysterectomy as well, and for the same reason; her mother had died of ovarian cancer and had suffered from breast cancer as well. Other women on her mother’s side also suffered the same fates.
This week, in yet another Times op-ed, Jolie announced she recently had surgery to remove her ovaries and fallopian tubes. Ironically, she chose to make the announcement during Women’s History Month. Who would’ve thought that one of the world’s biggest movie stars, who earlier in her career lived for salacious headlines, would be now making headlines by using her health challenges to potentially benefit millions of other women.
Jolie, like her mother, Marcheline Bertrand, who died from ovarian cancer at the age of 56, carries the BRCA1 gene mutation. Like untold numbers of women, Jolie was left more susceptible to breast and ovarian cancers than women who don’t carry this gene. Ovarian is the most deadly gender-based cancer of all and Jolie made the decision in consultation with her doctors, some of whom had actually treated her mother to take control of her health narrative.
And in sharing her compelling personal health woes, Jolie, a globe-trotting goodwill ambassador, may have done more good for women and their children than many of her direct contact in her ambassadorial role has achieved thus far. When you are considered “sexiest woman alive” and you turn around and reveal that you are choosing to remove the very things people think help to make you sexy, it takes a lot of courage. Not only that, Jolie is married to a “sexiest man alive” whose very name makes women swoon, it takes confidence to not just do, but reveal these preventive steps.
It also beats the heck out of being a dead sex symbol so kudos to both Jolie and her husband, Brad Pitt, who clearly supports her decisions. When you have children you tend to be even more precautionary than you are when you are childless.
Jolie admits that these precautionary measures she has taken don’t necessarily mean she won’t end up with another type of cancer. What is important to her is that her children will now never have to say, “Mom died of ovarian cancer.” Someday her biological daughters and grand-daughters will also have to negotiate this very matter in their own bodies.
Some famous people complain about the inconvenience of their celebrity, but this is one area in which it serves them, and by extension us, well. Prior to Magic Johnson’s announcement that he had contracted HIV, the AIDS epidemic was largely dismissed as a disease restricted to gays, junkies and people from certain nations. Magic took the stigma out of it, and also made people realize that AIDS is an “everybody” disease. It always helps to have a famous face associated with a disease that needs funding and/or understanding.
But as we close the book on this year’s Women’s History Month, let us as women, and even men, not put off our health screenings. Whatever our genetic chart says, we still need to be proactive by getting our annuals.
Jolie’s revelation of her deeply personal medical choices is the gift that will keep on giving to women and their families.