Angelina Jolie is getting deeply personal about how she’s been affected by cancer.
The 44-year-old actress is a contributing editor for TIME magazine’s new Health Innovation issue, and in a personal essay, she writes about how advances in breast cancer research and treatment should be accompanied by more thought for the safety, dignity and care of women.
Jolie’s mother, grandmother and aunt died of cancer. In 2013, she underwent a preventive double mastectomy, and in 2015, she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed as a preventative measure against cancer after she took a blood test that revealed she had an estimated 87 percent risk of breast cancer and a 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer.
“I’m often asked how my medical choices, and being public about them, have affected me,” Jolie writes. “I simply feel I made choices to improve my odds of being here to see my children grow into adults, and of meeting my grandchildren. My hope is to give as many years as I can to their lives, and to be here for them.”
Jolie is clearly still devastated by the death of her mother, Marcheline Bertrand, who died in 2007 after a years-long battle with ovarian and breast cancer. She was 56 years old.
“I have lived over a decade now without a mom,” she writes. “She met only a few of her grandchildren and was often too sick to play with them. It’s hard now for me to consider anything in this life divinely guided when I think of how much their lives would have benefited from time with her and the protection of her love and grace. My mother fought the disease for a decade and made it into her 50s. My grandmother died in her 40s. I’m hoping my choices allow me to live a bit longer.”
The mother of six says dealing with her health issues has brought her closer to other women.
“I have a patch for hormones, and I need to get regular health checkups,” she notes. “I see and feel changes in my body, but I don’t mind. I’m alive, and for now I am managing all the different issues I inherited. I feel more connected to other women, and I often have deeply personal conversations with strangers about health and family.”
“People also ask how I feel about the physical scars I carry,” she adds. “I think our scars remind us of what we have overcome. They are part of what makes each of us unique. That diversity is one of the things that is most beautiful about human existence.”
Jolie goes on to share that through her own personal experience, she has come to realize that care is not just about medical treatments, but about the “safety, dignity and support afforded to women,” whether they’re battling cancer or just trying to manage stress.
“My mother seemed peaceful when she first knew she had cancer,” she recalls. “I now see that in part it was because after many years of stress and struggle, people were forced to be gentle to her. During the highest years of stress in my own life, I developed high blood pressure and needed to be treated for hypertension.”
“When we speak of women’s equality, it is often in terms of rights withheld, that ought to be given to us collectively,” she continues. “Increasingly I see it in terms of behavior that needs to stop. Stop turning a blind eye to the abuse of women. Stop blocking the ability of girls to get an education or access health care. Stop forcing them to marry a person you have chosen for them, especially when they are still children. Help young girls know their value. Help keep women you know safe. And before a woman is in the hospital, dying, and that reality is written on a diagnosis sheet, look into her eyes and consider the life she is living and how it might be with less stress.”
ET spoke to Jolie earlier this month at the premiere of Maleficent: Mistress of Evil in London, where she talked about her eldest child, 18-year-old Maddox, who recently started college at Yonsei University in South Korea.
“I’m so happy for him that [Maddox has] grown up into such a good man,” she said. “I say that ’cause he’s smart and he’s doing his work but he’s also wild. He’s balanced in his teenage years.”
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