Tuesday 12 November 2019

Andrea Smith: Angelina Jolie going through 'menopause' seems to be more important than overcoming a cancer scare

Angelina Jolie
Angelina Jolie
Journalist Andrea Smith at RTE's television studio before she appears on the Late Late show to challenge Kate Hopkins on weight issues. Photo: Eleanor Keegan
Angelina Jolie

Andrea Smith

It was predictable, of course, that some parts of the online media world would be competing for the most clickbait-y headline, but I still can't decide which of these headlines annoyed me most today.

"Angelina Jolie hits menopause after cancer scare," certainly ticked me off, and "A-list actress undergoes invasive surgery after cancer scare" made me grind my teeth with annoyance. These headlines, and hundreds more like them, referred to Angelina Jolie, a woman who happens to be an actress and a mother, who wrote calmly and bravely in today's New York about making the very difficult decision to have her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed.

As such, it deserved a bit more respect in the wider media than being treated like the latest piece of showbiz gossip, designed to reel us in to feast upon the titillating details.

Read more: ‘I will not be able to have any more children’ - Angelina Jolie has ovaries removed after possible signs of cancer

Jolie said she wanted to raise awareness of the importance of early screening and detection
Jolie said she wanted to raise awareness of the importance of early screening and detection

Writing eloquently and movingly, Angela explained that she carries a mutation in the BRCA1 gene, which gave her an 87 per cent risk of developing breast cancer and a 50 per cent risk of ovarian cancer. She decided to have a preventive double mastectomy two years ago, having explored other less invasive options with her doctor.

Having lost her mum, Marcheline Bertrand, to ovarian cancer in 2007, which was diagnosed when she was 49, Angelina knew she would ultimately also have her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed. She described how she had already been readying herself physically and emotionally for the surgery, as it would put her into forced menopause, researching alternative medicines and mapping her hormones for estrogen and progesterone replacement.

Read more: 'Angelina Jolie is amazing', praises Irish author and nine-time cancer survivor Emma Hannigan

As she prepared, a blood test she undergoes yearly to detect ovarian cancer detected some inflammatory markers that were elevated, a possible indicator of early cancer. Upon having further tests, she decided to go ahead with the preventive surgery. She made the difficult and courageous choice so that her six young children would never say, "Mom died of ovarian cancer." 

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie

In doing so, she has removed many of the body parts that are uniquely feminine, and that takes a lot of courage to do, and is bound to have a psychological effect on her. She admitted that in her article, but said that she felt feminine and was at ease with whatever was to come, as she was "grounded in the choices I am making for myself and my family."

It was a fabulous piece, honest, inspiring and completely devoid of self-pity, as the actress descibed how she wanted other women at risk to know about the options. She explained that a positive BRCA1 gene mutation does not automatically mean a "leap to surgery," as she put it. She also felt lucky that she had already had her family, when other women are deprived of the opportunity to have children because of the same surgery.

Menopause has never been a subject that is considered sexy in the media. It is rarely discussed, and when it is, it is generally associated with ageing and loss of looks and sex appeal. In other words, negatively. Like older women and wrinkles, menopause is usually airbrushed out of the mainstream media and entertainment worlds.

Angelina Jolie is one of the most beautiful women in the world, and now that she has revealed that she is going through the change at 39, it gives us all a whole new angle for discourse.

Read more: Three Irish sisters who carry same deadly gene as Angelina Jolie

As a working actress, I fervently hope Angelina is not going to be subjected to an ongoing analysis of how she is coping with menopause. Will she be scrutinised on the red carpet to see if she is having a hot flush? Will her skin be analysed to see if it is looking as flawless without the estrogen. Will other people also going through menopause feel inferior because they will be told how amazing Angelina is doing while they are struggling? I would love to think not, but given how the reaction panned out today when she revealed her news, I don't hold out much hope.

Angelina Jolie has had her ovaries removed to prevent cancer
Angelina Jolie has had her ovaries removed to prevent cancer

After all, we had screaming headlines all over the world, and a discouragingly tabloid-like approach in many quarters to discussing the story, with "Angie in menopuse shocker" being an over-riding theme.

Menopause is a very normal part of a women's life, and it deserves to be treated with the same respect that most other stages are afforded. Angelina Jolie told her story in a such a respectful, informative and helpful way today, and she deserves to be discussed in exactly the same manner.

By all means, make menopause something that is discussed openly, but let us not turn Angelina's story and her body into a vehicle for generating online clicks and magazine sales.

Online Editors

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