I heard the news last night. To say I was shocked and confused at first is an understatement. I received an E! News email with the words "Angelina Jolie reveals she had a double mastectomy" in the subject line. My heart sank. I thought there must be a mistake and I couldn't load the email fast enough.
There it was, the story, in her own words—of how her own mother had lost her 10-year fight with ovarian cancer at 56 years young, and how Angelina had discovered she carried the breast cancer gene mutation and wanted to take her health into her own hands. In her very public letter to the world, Angelina, one of the most famous yet reserved of Hollywood celebrities, described step-by-step her ordeal: How she underwent a nipple delay procedure in February of this year, to the 8-hour surgery shortly after, complete with drains and tubes coming out of her chest, to the painful process of breast reconstruction.
The words on the page brought me back to my own double mastectomy just over a year ago. Now normally, I can't help but tear up when I am brought back to that very painful time in my life. But last night, I did the opposite. I smiled and let out a sigh of relief. Relief that more and more women are getting the courage to share their stories for the most selfless reason of all...to help other women. All for the sole purpose of empowering other women with information that could save their lives.
I've been given an outlet to reach millions of women each week and I feel I have a responsibility to use it for good and not evil. For me, the decision to go public was a very difficult one, but I couldn't ignore the incredible platform I have. There is nothing like the feeling when a woman comes up to me on the street and says, "Because of you I got my first mammogram," or "Because of you, I got that strange lump checked out and it ended up being early stage breast cancer." Angelina will now also have that effect on women, but on such a grander scale: she is an international superstar and her reach is endless. For that reason, we should be proud of her for sharing her incredibly personal story for the sole purpose of changing and even saving women's lives.
The truth is, in helping other women, you end up helping yourself, and you help your soul heal. You end up being able to validate one of the most painful times in your life by realizing that maybe all the pain and the fear and the tears were worth it. I went public with my breast cancer to help others...in the end, I helped myself the most.
What does this surgery mean for Angelina? Well, for one, it will not define her, but it will change her. It will make her life fuller knowing that she doesn't have to look over her shoulder like she did when she had an 87 percent risk of breast cancer and 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer. She will feel even more courageous knowing that she took her health into her own hands and took that astronomically high risk down considerably. Pretty incredible, huh?
This surgery will not make her feel less of a woman but even more of a woman and a warrior. And her day-to-day life won't change, either. She will go on to make movies, be a loving mom and partner, and continue her international aid work.
Most importantly, what does her news mean to you? What it means is simple. The most important thing for you to do today is to gather your family's cancer history on your mother's side and yes, even your father's side, and take it to a doctor you trust to start the conversation. To make that easier, there is a great resource from my friends at Bright Pink that I share with women in my life that will combine this health history and your lifestyle factors to provide a risk assessment for you to print out and take to your doctor. Just click here for Bright Pink's Assess Your Risk tool. It takes about four minutes to answer and will help you organize your information before your next visit to your doctor's office.
Now, I hope I didn't lose you in that last paragraph, because that is what all of this is about. In that paragraph lies the reason why women like Angelina Jolie sacrifice that very intimate part of their life and decide to share their story. As women, as moms, we put everyone's needs on our to-do lists, except our own. If you just grinned because you know I 'm talking about you, then let me say this to you: Even if you are not going to do it for yourself, do it for your children and your grandchildren. Not only do you want to be around to see your kids grow up, but guess what? They really want to have you around to see them grow up, too. So please, take a few minutes today to do this for yourself and even your family.
So I applaud Angelina's decision to go public with this very personal information. The fact that she is one of the most private stars in Hollywood yet she has decided to go public with this incredibly personal story demonstrates how important it is to shine the spotlight on the importance of breast and ovarian cancer prevention. But remember, you don't need to be a famous movie actress or TV reporter or someone with access to a stage or a microphone to be heard. You too can share your own inspirational stories with the women in your families and community to make a difference and to change or possibly even save a life. Take it from me, when you change other people's lives for the better, you can't help but better your own life. And it feels pretty damn good.
For more from Giuliana Rancic on Angelina Jolie's news, tune in to E! News tonight at 7 and 11:30 p.m.