What We Can Learn from Angelina Jolie Pitt

March 25, 2015

“I did not do this solely because I carry the BRCA1 gene mutation, and I want other women to hear this.…There is more than one way to deal with any health issue. The most important thing is to learn about the options and choose what is right for you personally.” – Angelina Jolie Pitt

Yesterday, Angelina Jolie Pitt made headlines when she revealed her decision to surgically remove her ovaries and fallopian tubes, due to an estimated 50% risk that she would develop ovarian cancer. The risk stems from a hereditary mutated gene, the BRCA1, which not only affected Jolie’s ovaries, but gave her an 87% chance of developing breast cancer as well (before her double mastectomy in 2013).

We sometimes forget that even celebrities face challenges which can make them feel lost and without control, but the emotional effects of cancer are universal. People say cancer doesn’t discriminate, but that’s not true; cancer is an unfair disease which affects the population unequally, and the sad truth is that some of us are more at risk for certain cancers based on our genetic backgrounds than others. But just because you carry a gene doesn’t mean that you don’t have options.

CSC has talked in the past about the importance of staying informed about your own personal circumstance, but this has never been more important than with regards to your genetic inheritance. So what are the steps to determining your next move?

Study your situation: Find out about the history of cancer in your family. If you’re worried that you might be a gene carrier, consult a doctor. The earlier you know about your risk and the more you know about your risk, the faster you can start brainstorming your choices.

Lay out all your options: Talk to your doctor, family, friends and loved ones about the realities that you are facing and the best course of action. Utilize CSC’s Open to Options to formulate a list of targeted questions to ask your oncologist about treatment choices, and feel empowered to make the choice that best fits your personal needs. Talk to other people about the routes they took and their experiences through the Living Room, our online community. Now is the time to put everything on the table.

Reflect: Don’t jump to conclusions, be judgmental or rule anything out; take your time and really evaluate each possibility with an open mind. Don’t let yourself be ruled by any fears you may have, and remember that the best decisions are made with a calm and clear head.

Choose the best option for YOU: When it comes down to it, you are the one who knows yourself best, and you are the one who should make the call.

Facing your fears to make this decision can be intimidating, even for stars like Angelina Jolie. But, as Karen Hurley, a clinical psychologist specializing in hereditary cancer risk noted, “Ms. Jolie’s story beautifully illustrates a hidden truth about making big decisions (medical or otherwise): the process of listening to yourself and deciding what it right for you creates that peaceful center that will help you through the ups and downs of screening, surgery and treatment.”

We know you’ve got what it takes. And you know you’re not alone.