I was diagnosed with my BRCA2 mutation in 2007, at the young age of 23. I was prompted to get tested because of my family history of ovarian and breast cancers. My grandmother, who I was very very close with, passed from ovarian cancer. When I tried explaining what BRCA was, people were very confused. When I talked about the possibility of having my ovaries removed when I was 40, I got some strange and judgemental looks.
Even sitting in the mammography waiting room, waiting for the radiologist to take a second look at some suspicious images, the mammogram technician proclaimed in front of all in the waiting room, “Why are you here? You are so young?!” When I vulnerably explained the BRCA mutation, sitting there in an uncomfortable robe, she said “I don’t know what that is.” I fought with insurance companies with every mammogram, breast MRI, pelvic ultrasound, and CA-125 test. It wasn’t exactly how I wanted to spend my time in my early 20s, but I knew it was worth it.
Then, in May of 2013, everything changed. Angelina Jolie bravely announced she had undergone a preventative mastectomy due to her BRCA1 mutation. Suddenly, when I told someone about my BRCA mutation, they said “Oh! The Angelina gene!” One of the world’s biggest movie stars had made it possible for me to speak openly about my BRCA mutation. Even the decision to have my preventative mastectomy at age 30 was made in part due to Angelina Jolie Pitt’s decision. My breast surgeon, Dr. Kristi Funk, was the same surgeon that Angelina used, and her blog posting about Angelina’s experience made the idea of surgery less daunting to me. Angelina’s braveness to speak about her journey also encouraged me to start Funky Genes. I wanted to be open about my journey so that non-movie stars know what their resources were and that they have just as much a part in their health decisions as anyone else.
Now, Angelina published a new, brave op-ed, about having her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed after some suspicious labwork. I have known that I would get my ovaries and fallopian tubes removed at age 40 since my BRCA2 diagnosis. Hopefully, Angelina’s announcement will bring much needed attention to ovarian cancer research.
As a public health professional and soon-to-be nurse, I have seen the impact that Angelina’s openness has had on the general public. I absolutely love her message, which I say often on this blog – knowledge is power! Participating in your own health decisions is so important. I also love how supportive her husband is in her health decisions, something I am lucky enough to also experience. Angelina Jolie Pitt really is my hero and I hope one day to meet her and to tell her in person. If I’m not able to, I hope she somehow can read this post and know how much she has positively affected my life, and so many others.