In an op-ed published in the New York Times Tuesday, Jolie explains that she opted to have the surgery after her annual cancer-screening blood test showed inflammatory markers that could be an early sign of ovarian cancer. Jolie — who revealed in 2013 that she has a BRCA gene mutation that gave her an 87 percent chance of getting breast cancer and a 50 percent chance of getting ovarian cancer — lost her mother, grandmother and aunt to cancer.
The actress, who has six children with her husband Brad Pitt, says she assumed she would have months to schedule the ovarian and fallopian tube surgery, but got a call from her doctor two weeks ago about the test results.
"I went through what I imagine thousands of other women have felt," Jolie, 39, writes. "I told myself to stay calm, to be strong, and that I had no reason to think I wouldn't live to see my children grow up and to meet my grandchildren. I called my husband in France, who was on a plane within hours. 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."
Jolie says she underwent more scans and tests, which all came back clear, but she opted to have the surgery anyway. "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," Jolie writes. "In my case, the Eastern and Western doctors I met agreed that surgery to remove my tubes and ovaries was the best option, because on top of the BRCA gene, three women in my family have died from cancer. My doctors indicated I should have preventive surgery about a decade before the earliest onset of cancer in my female relatives. My mother's ovarian cancer was diagnosed when she was 49. I'm 39."
The actress underwent a laparoscopic bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy last week, which revealed a small benign tumor in one ovary, but no signs of cancer. As a result of the surgery — which Jolie called "a less complex surgery than the mastectomy, but its effects are more severe" — the Oscar winner is now in menopause. "I will not be able to have any more children, and I expect some physical changes," she says. "But I feel at ease with whatever will come, not because I am strong but because this is a part of life. It is nothing to be feared."
Despite the two surgeries, Jolie, who chose not to remove her uterus, says there's still a chance she could get cancer. "It is not possible to remove all risk, and the fact is I remain prone to cancer," she writes. "I feel feminine, and grounded in the choices I am making for myself and my family. I know my children will never have to say, 'Mom died of ovarian 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 advice, learn about the options and make choices that are right for you. Knowledge is power."
Read Jolie's full op-ed here.