Angelina Jolie’s brave op-ed—and what it means for women

This morning, while reading the news, you might have had a flashback to 2013: Angelina Jolie wrote an incredibly moving op-ed in the New York Times about her decision to have an invasive surgical procedure in order to dramatically reduce her risk of the cancer that she’s genetically predisposed to.

In her article for the Times today, Jolie explained that she had elected to have her ovaries and fallopian tubes surgically removed after a doctor had noted signs in a blood test that could indicate very early stages of ovarian cancer.

So Jolie had the doctor who treated her mother, Marcheline Bertrand, perform the surgery. (Bertand was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at 49 and died of the disease at 56.) Her essay echoed the one she wrote in 2013 when she announced that she had undergone a preventative double mastectomy, in response to the family history of cancer that she has, carried on the “faulty” gene BRCA1. (“I can tell my children that they don’t need to fear they will lose me to breast cancer,” she wrote then.)

“Regardless of the hormone replacements I’m taking, I am now in menopause. I will not be able to have any more children, and I expect some physical changes,” Jolie wrote. “But I feel at ease with whatever will come, not because I am strong but because this is a part of life. It is nothing to be feared.”

That last part is the most beautiful part of the whole essay, and it underlines what Jolie’s intent is by making this very personal process public. That is: women’s health is not something to be ashamed of, nor is it something that needs to be hushed up or feared. It is part of life, and it can be embraced just as fully as the other parts.

Jolie recognized the potential for a deadly illness through her own family history, and took steps to prevent it. But she’s not telling all women to go out and get preventative surgery. Her message is much more powerful, and much simpler than that. It is a reminder to women to take care of themselves, fundamentally, and not to be afraid. That our bodies have value to us beyond their ability to look attractive in a dress or bear children; they are there so that we might participate exuberantly in life as long as we can. And that is why we should treat ourselves well, even if those choices seem frightening.

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