I was never a real fan of Angelina Jolie, I thought she stole another woman’s man (Rachel from Friends no less!) and she always seemed so aloof. However in recent years I have warmed to her, been heartened by her generosity and over recent days empathised with her journey.
Having your breasts and ovaries removed is certainly a monumental decision. I commend Angelina for being so public about her decision – a decision that I know would not have been taken lightly – using her profile to raise awareness for ovarian cancer and the choices we have in cancer prevention.
Four months ago, I undertook the same operation (although I had a total hysterectomy with the removal of my uterus, ovaries and fallopian tubes) for the very same reason – to exercise my options in cancer prevention. I do not carry the BRAC gene, however my mother passed away aged 42 years after an aggressive and rare form of ovarian cancer. My sister and I watched as she went from being a vibrant healthy woman to hospital-bound and a shadow of her former self, both physically and mentally. She passed away a mere 6 months after her diagnosis without experiencing any quality of life.
It’s a hideous disease; and I am no stranger to cancer. In 2012 I was diagnosed with bowel cancer, therefore the possibility of cancer growing in my body yet again undetected, was enough for me to do my utmost to ensure I didn’t go down the same path as my mother. At 44, a mother of a 5-year old son, having a loving husband and many more years left to live and enjoy – I wanted to give myself every opportunity to spend time with my family and see my son grow up.
So I embarked on this journey and chose to have an elective total hysterectomy. I had been contemplating it for years, however after going through a gruelling 8 months of chemotherapy for bowel cancer, my decision was cemented. Before I pressed the “go” button, I sought advise from a number of medical specialists including my oncologist, colorectal
If I could have had a screening test, such as a mammogram for breast cancer or a colonoscopy for bowel cancer maybe my decision would have been different. But in Australia there no recommended screening tests for ovarian cancer.
Although I took the practical approach and rationalised it in my head – it was only my ovaries and uterus and I no longer required them for reproductive purposes – the actual decision weighed heavily on me emotionally. I was subjecting my body to another round of surgery voluntarily, I would go into immediate menopause and there were physical hurdles I needed to address. However four months later the only change to my life is a little clear patch that replaces my hormones and peace of mind that I won’t need to keep thinking in the back of my head “Is that pain in my back ovarian cancer?”
I managed to dodge a bullet with my first experience of cancer,
“It is not easy to make these decisions. But it is possible to take control and tackle head-on any health issue. You can seek advise, learn about the options and make choices that are right for you. Knowledge is power.”
Hear, hear Angelina – thank-you for shining a light on the importance of choice in cancer prevention.
Watch our On The Couch vids of Aussie women dealing with cancer