Angelina Jolie empowers women to be proactive about cancer risks, genetic testing

    Local mom Jaime Wright with one of her kids. (Photo: WJLA)

    WASHINGTON (WJLA) - Angelina Jolie's recent op-eds in the New York Times detailed her proactive approach to preventing breast and ovarian cancer.

    Jolie lost her mother, aunt and grandmother to ovarian cancer. To check on her own risk, she had genetic testing and tested positive for the BRCA-1 genetic mutation. She's since had a preventive double mastectomy and had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed. By sharing her story publicly, Jolie has empowered other women to take control of their health too.

    Jaime Wright is mother to two toddlers, Jack and Adina, and also runs a non-profit called "Lolly's Locks." The non-profit helps cancer patients receive high-quality wigs. Wright started the non-profit with her family in honor of her mom, Lolly Toll. Toll lost her battle to ovarian cancer at age 57.

    "She's missing out on getting to be with her grandkids and she's missing out on being with me and my sister when we really need our mom the most," said Wright.

    After being diagnosed with ovarian cancer, Toll found out she was BRCA-2 positive. Later, Wright and her sister also got genetic testing and tested positive for BRCA-2 as well.

    "That result kind of changes everything... I have a very high risk for developing a breast or ovarian cancer down the line," said Wright.

    To reduce her risk of getting cancer, Wright chose to take action. Last month, she had a preventive double mastectomy at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital. And when she turns 35, she'll also have her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed, just like Angelina Jolie.

    "It's a no brainer to me that the things I can try to effect change and make the outcome better for myself and my family, I would do in a heartbeat and I would do it again and again, said Wright, who is now in recovery from surgery.

    MedStar Georgetown University Hospital Chief of Breast Surgery Dr. Eleni Tousimis says Angelina Jolie's public revelations about her health has increased awareness about genetic testing and screening–including who's at high risk and who isn't.

    The hospital's senior genetic counselor adds that it's important that people are talking about this now. And she says genetic testing is a better predictor of a person's risk of developing ovarian cancer than just looking at family history.

    Another local mom, Rachel Newman, went through genetic testing after being diagnosed with breast cancer. She says her cancer diagnosis was a shock to her, because she has no known family history. She scheduled a lumpectomy and radiation, but when she tested positive for the BRCA-1 mutation, she immediately changed tactics. Newman instead changed her surgery plans to have a double mastectomy and hysterectomy.

    Now, a year later, she says she has no regrets.

    "I have two boys and I wanted to do everything in my power to make sure that I was here for them," said Newman.

    Wright's children are also a motivator for her. She doesn't want them to lose their mother the way she did.

    "That's what I think someone like Angelina Jolie is showing: how to say 'you know what, I saw my mom go through this, I want to change the course of history myself,'" Wright said.

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