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Should We All Follow Angelina Jolie's Example?

April 1st, 2015 |
Awareness & Education

by JBC17 | Survivor: Colorectal (Bowel) Cancer    Connect


Cancer experts say that Anglina Jolie Pitt was wise to have her ovaries and Fallopian tubes removed, but what do cancer patients and survivors think? Read more.

As many of us have already heard, actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie Pitt has recently announced that she has removed her ovaries and Fallopian tubes in an attempt to significantly decrease her risk of Ovarian Cancer. She made this decision, as well as the decision to undergo a preventative double mastectomy in 2013, after discovering that she carried BRCA1, the genetic mutation that significantly increases her risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

It is interesting to see the different reactions she has received for her decision. I believe that every person is entitled to their opinion, but I also believe that every person is entitled to make the choices that are right for them and their situation. Everyone's cancer journey is different. Being able to share our stories is important part of our healing process. It allows every cancer warrior to connect, learn, and hear different perspectives.

In Angelina Jolie's case, I can understand why she made the choice she made. She didn't go into this blindly or lightly-- she has lost her mother, grandmother and aunt to cancer. I expect she was well aware of the side effects of her decision, such as pushing her body into early menopause. Being a celebrity does not make you exempt of such cancer realities.

Those who have been affected by cancer may think one way, while those who have not may think another way. My perspective is directly related to my personal cancer experience. At age 32, I found out I had stage 3C colon cancer. After a few days in shock I started speaking to different doctors, Googling (probably more that I should have), and determining a game plan. I had a history of Crohn's disease prior to the diagnosis. I was a mom of two sons, both under the age of 7. I had two tumors that were found during a colonoscopy, and the doctor wasn't able to scope everything due to inflammation so it was possible there were more. I met with different doctors. They suggested option A, which meant removing portions of my colon and having a temporary ostomy with the possibility of reversal. I would decide after surgery whether I should have chemo. This was a good option; I could adjust to life with an ostomy. It also gave me time to decide if I was physically and mentally ready for chemo. But that choice didn't seem right to me.

Then I met with another doctor. She gave me option A, but she also gave me options B, C and D. The one that resonated most with me was removing everything; my colon, a portion of my small intestine, and my rectum. It would leave me with a permanent ostomy. The surgery would be much longer and recovery would be harder. She would remove lymph nodes during the surgery and was adamant that I should have chemo.

I responded with a "Let's do it" within moments after she had told me this. She looked surprised and asked me if I was sure. I told her yes, that I had no doubts. My husband at the time was shocked I wanted to remove everything and settle on something so permanent. Similar to how I imagine Angelina Jolie may feel, I actually felt a sense of calm and relief. The honesty in her answers, and the fact that she gave me options that I might not have liked or considered, made me trust her. She didn't hold back and tell me what she thought I wanted to hear. Instead she laid it all out and allowed me to decide what was best for me. It was refreshing.

I wasn't worried about the cosmetics or adjusting to an ostomy. I wasn't worried about surgery, scars, the side effects of chemo, or if I could handle all of this. My only focus and motivation were my sons. I wanted the best chance of survival and lowering my chances of reccurrence, for them. I didn't want them having to experience the death of a parent at such young ages. I was petrified my two year old wouldn't remember me if I lost this battle. I wanted to be there for all their milestones- graduations, marriage, children...everything.

This battle was going to be hard enough for all of us. I was willing to do even the most extreme option if it meant more time with them. The things I weren't worried about could be major factors for someone else deciding on their treatment options. I'm not saying this is the right choice for everyone, But it was the right choice for me.

Some cancer warriors choose not to have surgery; others prefer to try alternative treatments and not pursue chemo; some choose not to seek any treatment options. Do I judge them? Are their decisions wrong? No. Their situations may differ from mine. I can only hope sharing my story helps someone else weighing their options. Cancer is a difficult time for everyone. We don't always agree with someone's choices, but need to remember it's their journey and no two cancer stories are the same.

What do you think about Angelina Jolie's decision? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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Julie Brown-Cook is a 37 year-old mother of two from Boston. She is a colon cancer survivor and ostomate, but she continues to stay active and still does all the things she enjoys. Find Julie on I Had Cancer under the username JBC17.

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