Angelina’s Diary of a Surgery

I just read Angelina Jolie Pitt’s op-ed in The New York Times about her second preventative surgery: to remove her fallopian tubes and ovaries. Just as she did with her prophylactic bilateral mastectomy two years ago, Jolie Pitt writes articulately and openly about her laparoscopic bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy, using imagery and opinions that those of us who have walked in her shoes immediately understand.

She writes, “The beautiful thing about such moments in life is that there is so much clarity. You know what you live for and what matters. It is polarizing, and it is peaceful.”

So much clarity. Amidst untold chaos and unimaginable confusion, there is clarity.

She recounts her consultation with the GYN surgeon, who had also treated her mother: “I last saw her [the surgeon] the day my mother passed away, and she teared up when she saw me: ‘You look just like her.’ I broke down. But we smiled at each other and agreed we were there to deal with any problem, so ‘let’s get on with it.’”

I had a similar encounter with someone who cared for my own sweet mama during her cancer treatment. The woman who was my mom’s radiation tech is now a nurse in my orthopedist’s office. I knew as soon as I saw her face that she was the kind practitioner who blasted pointed radiation into my mom’s beleaguered body five days a week for weeks on end. When I encountered her in the orthopedist’s office, I was thrown for a moment because she was out of context. But before long we realized who each other was, and she said the same thing to me that Jolie Pitt’s mom’s surgeon said to her: “You look just like her.”

Stupid fucking cancer.

When Jolie Pitt wrote about her mastectomy in May 2013 she cast the spotlight on the issue of femininity being defined by body parts. After her mastectomy she wrote: “I do not feel any less of a woman. I feel empowered that I made a strong choice that in no way diminishes my femininity.” With her latest surgery, Jolie Pitt casts the spotlight on another jarring and difficult result: forced menopause.

Becoming menopausal decades before its natural occurrence is unpleasant, to say the least. The physical and emotional ramifications of forced menopause suck. Really suck. There is no easing into the myriad effects, which can include hot flashes, night sweats, increased sweating, sleep disturbances, mood swings, urinary tract infections, sexual disfunction, memory loss, difficulty concentrating, back pain, joint stiffness, and fatigue. As if that’s not enough, throw in the accelerated aging: loss of elasticity in skin, lack of collagen, hair loss, brittle nails, diminished muscle tone, slower metabolism, and weight gain. Suck. At a time when many women are claiming the best version of themselves (“40 is the new 20!” “I’ve finally come into my own!” et al), early menopause creates instant grannies. Suck. If anyone can shed light on the ugly truths of forced menopause, my money is on Angelina. Yes, she has unlimited financial means and resources unavailable to the average cancerchick, but she also has a platform for educating the masses and she’s gonna use it. Hooray!

At the time of this publishing, there were 321 comments on her story; by the end of the day that number will have climbed. The handful of comments that I scanned were positive, but there are some who chastise her for her choices. I’m always amazed at how ugly people can be with the anonymity that our online world provides. How nice it would be if those cowardly, overly opinionated haters could really digest Jolie Pitt’s reasoning and respect her choice. How nice it would be if they would re-read the last sentence in this segment of her latest essay:

“I did not do this solely because I carry the BRCA1 gene mutation, and I want other women to hear this. A positive BRCA test does not mean a leap to surgery. I have spoken to many doctors, surgeons and naturopaths. There are other options. 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.”

Choose what is right for you personally.

What works for you may not be the same thing that works for me, or for your neighbor or your cousin or the woman who works at your favorite Hallmark store. Cancer, like any disease, is an immensely personal issue, and any and all decisions resulting from a diagnosis should be personal.


12 Comments on “Angelina’s Diary of a Surgery”

  1. mmr says:

    First thing when I got on the internet this morning I read her piece in the Times. Then saw your piece. And your first quote from her is something I had already copied and put into my “Anxiety/Inspirational” file. A file created after BC, of course (and forced menopause). I actually commented on the article because the last comment I saw was a “hater” talking about Angelina’s life circumstances and that is how she got the BRCA testing. Mine was covered by insurance, (also Lynch testing too), so thought I’d let people know. And also that Tamoxifen, and sometimes as in my case even double mastectomy itself, can cause menopause. And also that although indeed Angelina’s life is not like most of us, I think she is brave for talking about this very personal issue. Just like you. Thanks and keep it up!

  2. mmr says:

    PS Hope last surgery went well. I’m having problems with my elbow and wondering if, once again, it’s another aftereffect! Never had a problem there before. Maybe it’s the whopping 5 pound weights I use when exercising. 😉

  3. Amy H. says:

    Decisions are personal so I think when a person makes a decision that definitely should be respected. I was talking to someone today about how we figure out what our choices are and then figure out what the best choice is. Seriously, do we ever choose the second or third best choice after all that figuring?? NO!!! So respect the decision and the process it took to get there.

    • mmr says:

      Absolutely, Amy! Usually we just do the best we can under the circumstances we’re given. I also liked that Angelina emphasized that people need to understand all their options.

  4. Renn says:

    I agree, Angie will shed a lotta light on a lotta things we all know far, far too well.

    Also agree on the suckiness of menopause post BC. Taking hormone blockers is not at all like going through “regular” menopause. Collectively it would help to talk about this more in the blogosphere. I’m not sure that will change anything, but it may help other women suffering silently realize Hey, I’m alone!

  5. […] helps us understand and put into perspective Angelina Jolie’s decision. Both Nancy of the Pink Underbelly and the YSC blog stress making choices about our health that is right for you personally. As Nancy […]

  6. The Accidental Amazon says:

    Oh, amen on more discussion of forced menopause symptoms or even, for those taking any anti-hormone drugs as part of cancer treatment, worsened menopause. I’ve so often thought that the consequences for women of these symptoms are so inadequately addressed, and sometimes even brushed aside. I keep hoping that someone can invent a way to keep the beneficial effects of hormones where they’re needed — brains, bones, joints, skin, hair — while keeping them away from our breasts and reproductive organs, where they feed cancer. A fond wish…

    xo, Kathi

  7. […] example, this blogger had the exact same feelings as Angelina. Not only does she know what it means to have cancer – but also the nurse in her […]

  8. Pgplus7 says:

    Hi. I would love to connect with you. I’ve been fighting mycobacteria fortitium since Dec. after my bi lateral mastectomy. I have searched the Internet high & low and have only found one other person that got this after surgery.
    Thank you for blogging about your journey. I would love to hear how your doing now.
    Thank you. 😊

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