HAWMC Day 6: Actress, Humanitarian and Health Activist

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Welcome to the Health Activist Writer’s Month Challenge brought together by WEGO Health – a social network for all health activists.  Again, I am participating in the annual Writer’s Month Challenge in which I will be writing about my health activism and health condition based upon given prompts.

Monday April 7th: Your Hero 

Everyone has someone they look up to – a person they go to for advice, an individual you admire or idolise.  It could be your partner, a family member, coworker, or someone famous.  Who are they and what makes them awesome in your eyes?

This is a tough question.  I am surrounded by a lot of amazing and inspirational people, many of whom I look up to and admire – my Mum, my friends Aisha, Anya, Hayley, Claire for examples.  It was hard to choose between these fantastic people, and so instead I have opted to discuss a well-known celebrity whom I both respect and admire.

Angelina Jolie.  A woman who has many facets to her personal identity – a wife, mother, woman, actress, UN ambassador, and now health activist.

Angelina Jolie should not only be admired and respected for her incredible acting career, not only playing iconic characters such as Lara Croft and Maleficient, but also won many accolades for her performances in films such as Girl Interrupted, Changeling and Gia.

Angelina Jolie in one of her most famous roles, Maleficient
Angelina Jolie in one of her most famous roles, Maleficient

However, it is her work off-screen why she has become a woman many have become to respect and admire.  Her extensive work as a humanitarian, and US Ambassador has taken her to many countries around the world, witnessing the devastating effects of conflicts and natural disasters.  She has met many people who have been affected by such events, such as refugees who had been displaced due to conflicts in counties including Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Cambodia, Syria and Iraq.  Her work has also seen her meeting and helping those who have been personally affected by natural disasters, including earthquake victims in Haiti.  And her recent work, and visits to places such as the Congo with MP William Hague helped raise awareness about the use of rape as a weapon in conflicts which included a passionate and inspiring speech at the 2013 G8 Summit in London.

Angelina Jolie, the UN Ambassador
Angelina Jolie, the UN Ambassador

Her work however has not just included helping highlight the effects of events such as war and natural disasters, but the selfless and inspiring woman has even set up and financed many charitable organisations including the Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation which is dedicated to community development and environmental conservation in Cambodia, where her eldest son was born and whom inspired the charity.  She has also helped fund projects which helps to fund education for those children affected by man-made or natural disasters, and those organisations committed to providing legal aid for immigrant children living in the United States.

However, it is  recent events in Angelina’s private life which have really helped win the affections of many around the world.  In 2013, Angelina Jolie revealed to the world that she had undergone a double mastectomy due to an extensive family history of both breast and ovarian cancer and having learnt that she had the BRCA1 gene mutation that dramatically increases a person’s chance of developing cancer.  In an essay for the NY Times, Jolie wrote candidly about her decision to undergo the double mastectomy and hinted at a future operation to remove her ovaries (which she underwent earlier this year).

Not only was she incredibly brave about openly discussing her decisions for undertaking such radical measures to prevent her risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer but in doing so has helped, and will help many women going through the same reality that she was.  In the piece for NY Times, Jolie encourages women to take control over their health issues, whatever they may be, and to seek advice, learn about their options and make the decision that is right for the individual.

In her piece, she writes ‘knowledge is power’.  And it is this principle that is popular among many health activists and those  working within the self-management field.  Self-management enables and encourages patients living with a long-term health condition to take a pro-active role in managing their own health and well-being.  It is an area within the healthcare field which puts the control back into the hands of the patient.

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It may however be a field in which not many patients are aware of; many report not knowing where to seek out information regarding their own health and well-being and as a result may still look to their healthcare professionals to give out information and advise them on the right course of treatment for them.

By speaking out so openly and honestly and encouraging everyone to be proactive and take charge of their own health, then it is perhaps more likely for it to happen, as history suggests.  For example, after Jade Goody spoke out after her cervical cancer was diagnosed as terminal, the number of women opting for a cervical smear, which detects it, increased dramatically.

For Angelina Jolie to use her celebrity status for good and a positive influence for many makes her a true heroine in my eyes.

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