TORONTO — Actress Angelina Jolie says she had a preventive double mastectomy earlier this year after learning she is highly likely to get breast cancer.
Jolie, 37, writes about her decision to undergo the procedure in Tuesday’s edition of The New York Times.
“My mother fought cancer for almost a decade and died at 56,” Jolie writes, referring to actress Marcheline Bertrand. “She held out long enough to meet the first of her grandchildren and to hold them in her arms. But my other children will never have the chance to know her and experience how loving and gracious she was.”
Jolie says she completed three months of surgical procedures in late April with partner Brad Pitt at her side “every minute.” She describes an operation to remove breast tissue as feeling “like a scene out of a science-fiction film.”
The final step was to reconstruct the breasts with implants.
The star, who has six children with Pitt, explains that genetic testing revealed she carries a version of the BRCA1 gene that gives her an 87 per cent chance of developing breast cancer. She now has a less than five per cent risk.
“The decision to have a mastectomy was not easy. But it is one I am very happy that I made,” Jolie writes. “I can tell my children that they don’t need to fear they will lose me to breast cancer.”
Jolie says she hopes sharing her story will inspire other women who may be dealing with the same issue.
“I do not feel any less of a woman,” Jolie writes in the Times. “I feel empowered that I made a strong choice that in no way diminishes my femininity.”
In a statement to London’s Evening Standard, Pitt said: “Having witnessed this decision firsthand, I find Angie’s choice, as well as many others like her, absolutely heroic. I thank our medical team for their care and focus.
“All I want is for her to have a long and healthy life, with myself and our children,” he added. “This is a happy day for our family.”
The average woman has a 12 per cent chance of developing breast cancer but those with the same “faulty” gene as Jolie increase their risk five times. A blood test typically detects the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.
According to the Breast Cancer Society of Canada, breast cancer is the most common cancer among Canadian women — with an estimated 62 women diagnosed every day. It notes the death rate from breast cancer is the lowest it has been since 1950.
Celebrities reacted quickly to Jolie’s op-ed article via social media.
“I commend Angelina Jolie for her courage and thoughtfulness in sharing her story today regarding her mastectomy,” tweeted singer Sheryl Crow. “So brave!”
Actress Elizabeth Banks wrote: “Much respect & for sharing in classy way.” Canadian star Nia Vardalos echoed the sentiment, tweeting: “A moment of quiet respect for Angelina Jolie’s candor and all women’s bravery in facing this choice.”
Actor David Krumholtz declared: “Now, Angelina Jolie truly is the most beautiful woman in the world.”
Jolie is not the first Hollywood star to talk publicly about undergoing the procedure.
Last November, Sharon Osbourne revealed she had a preventive double mastectomy.
“As soon as I found out I had the breast cancer gene, I thought: ‘The odds are not in my favour.’ I decided to just take everything off,” she told Hello! “For me, it wasn’t a big decision, it was a no-brainer. I want to be around for a long time.”
TV personality Giuliana Rancic, comedian Wanda Sykes, and actors Kathy Bates and Christina Applegate also revealed they had double mastectomies.
“Life comes with many challenges,” Jolie writes in the Times. “The ones that should not scare us are the ones we can take on and take control of.”