The Internet is buzzing about Angelina Jolie Pitt’s new op-ed in The New York Times. After losing her mother, grandmother and aunt to cancer, she discovered she has the BRCA1 gene, which elevates her personal breast cancer risk to 87% and ovarian cancer risk at 50%. Almost two years after having a preventative double mastectomy that dropped her chances of getting breast cancer to just 5%, she recently had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to further mitigate her cancer risk.
Much of the reaction to her story centers around the fact that she is a famous actress, director and humanitarian who is raising awareness for cancer and ways to approach treatment. And I appreciate not only the bravery that lets her share her story, but her commitment to informing women about their options. But it’s her role as a mother that I most relate to.
Though I have been blessed to not confront an illness of the magnitude of cancer, I make choices great and small every day to help my daughter live the best version of her life, now and later. At its core, Jolie Pitt’s decision to undergo multiple surgeries and put herself into forced menopause speaks to that unflinching need to protect your children. It's the drive that makes you endure the hard stuff in hopes that they don’t have to. My heart could barely take it when she wrote, “I know my children will never have to say, ‘Mom died of ovarian cancer.’" That is a pain a 31-year-old Jolie Pitt suffered when she lost her mom, and though she can’t live forever, she is doing what she can to help Maddox, Pax, Zahara, John, Knox and Vivienne have as much time with her as possible. And that is an easy decision to make.
Since the day she started to learn about princesses and knights, I have spoken to my daughter about the importance of saving herself. At the tender age of three, she knows that she doesn’t have to wait for anyone — not a man or even mama, though she sure tries to make me — to come get her out of a tough spot. I even taught her how to kiss her own boo-boos and make them better (OK, so maybe that one was a gift to myself). To me, the greatest triumph in Jolie Pitt’s story is that she is doing everything she can to save her own life. And though we don’t all have access to her resources, we do have access to information, and we all possess marvelous stores of resolve that we can tap to put in place as many preventative measures as possible, from eating well to maintaining a healthy weight to going for the regular checkups and tests that can help us catch cancer early. Here’s to saving ourselves.
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