An Open Letter to Angelina Jolie Pitt

Subject: An Open Letter to Angelina Jolie Pitt
From: A Less Privileged Non-Movie Star with Ovarian Cancer
Date: 24 Mar 2015

Ms. Jolie Pitt,

Hi! My name's Camille. We've never met, for obvious reasons, but after reading your recent op-ed in the New York Times, I feel like we need to have a conversation. I feel like you may have missed some things. Important things. It's not your fault, really. You lead a privileged life, and I don't begrudge you that. I believe you work hard, and you seem like a good person. But you need to acknowledge your unique position before you begin parceling out advice, especially about a subject as heavy as cancer or women's health.

Let me tell you a little about myself. I am one of the women you "feel deeply for," who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at a young age. A week after my 21st birthday, I found myself in the emergency room having a 50-pound cancerous tumor removed from my right ovary. I've had better birthdays, TBH. So for the past two-and-a-half years, I have been battling uphill for my health, but not against cancer. No, I've been battling the health care industry to let me do what I want with my body.

Ms. Jolie Pitt, I acknowledge that I only know of your story what you have decided to share. I don't know the intricacies of the mental anguish I'm sure you have experienced over your situation. What I do know is that the options you have been given for handling your situation do not represent what the average woman in this predicament deals with. Let me repeat: Your situation is not representative of a typical American woman suffering from ovarian cancer. You are a celebrity. You are wealthy. You have a privilege that the rest of us don't, and if you believe that doesn't make a difference in this situation then you are gravely mistaken.

You say that knowledge is power, and I couldn't agree with you more. But I need you to realize that your access to knowledge is greatly enhanced because of your privilege: You have the financial and situational resources to "seek advice, learn about the options" to your heart's content. The average woman does not have this ability. You learned about your situation and, the same day, met with your surgeon and were able to begin making decisions about your health. If my oncologist finds an issue with my CA-125, it will be several days, at least, until I can get in to see him again. The waiting time is even longer, and the options even more limited, for women who are poor or live in more rural areas, physically removed from ready access to health services.

You say that "it is possible to take control and tackle head-on any health issue...and make choices that are right for you." But I need you to realize that the power you have as Angelina Freaking Jolie gives you possibilities that others don't have. You have been able to access information and procedures where others are blocked, and not just from lack of money. The cachet you carry because of who you are gives you greater control over your health care decisions. You were able to have your ovaries removed to prevent the possibility of ovarian cancer. Two-and-a-half years after my diagnosis, I am still trying to convince my doctors that I am capable of making the same decision. I am still trying to convince everyone that I know my body and my life better than they do. You may have to defend your choices to people, but here's the difference: You were allowed to make them. I know you've gotten some major flak for your decisions (and that is pure bullshit--nobody deserves that), but you weren't prevented from doing with your body what you thought was right. If you think our differences in wealth and privilege haven't affected our situations differently, then you are wrong.

Why is it acceptable for you to have greater agency over your body and life than I have over mine? Because you're rich? Famous? Beautiful? Married to Tyler Durden? Yes. Because of these things, you are accorded more considerations and more power over your life, and you need to recognize that. You need to recognize that, and then use that knowledge to fight back. Advocate for women's health in a way that can actually be used by average women. For better or worse, you have great power in our society, and I assume you know what comes with great power. I believe you can do tremendous good for women's health, Ms. Jolie Pitt, but only if you open your eyes to the lived realities of most women.


Camille M. Burger