Angelina Jolie has always been adept at taking people's breaths away—but, we admit, she just knocked the wind out of us.
The Oscar-winning mother of six reveals in an op-ed coming out in Tuesday's New York Times that she underwent a preventive double mastectomy in February after doctors told her that she carried the "'faulty' gene" BRCA1 and had roughly an 87 percent risk of contracting breast cancer.
"I am fortunate to have a partner, Brad Pitt, who is so loving and supportive," writes Jolie, 37. "So to anyone who has a wife or girlfriend going through this, know that you are a very important part of the transition. Brad was at the Pink Lotus Breast Center, where I was treated, for every minute of the surgeries. We managed to find moments to laugh together. We knew this was the right thing to do for our family and that it would bring us closer. And it has."
And, from the sound of it, Jolie's intention was to make more than her immediate family feel comfortable and capable of dealing with such a challenge.
"I choose not to keep my story private because there are many women who do not know that they might be living under the shadow of cancer," she writes. "It is my hope that they, too, will be able to get gene tested, and that if they have a high risk they, too, will know that they have strong options."
She admits that the decision was "not easy" but she is "very happy" with it, and her risk of breast cancer has dropped to "under 5 percent."
"I can tell my children that they don't need to fear they will lose me to breast cancer. It is reassuring that they see nothing that makes them uncomfortable. They can see my small scars and that's it. Everything else is just Mommy, the same as she always was. And they know that I love them and will do anything to be with them as long as I can. On a personal note, I do not feel any less of a woman. I feel empowered that I made a strong choice that in no way diminishes my femininity."
The actress also revealed that she was told she has approximately a 50 percent risk (the actual number varies based on the individual) of developing ovarian cancer, of which her mother, Marcheline Bertrand, died at only 56.
But, Jolie writes, she "started with the breasts" because the process was more complex.
She describes the multipart ordeal of having the double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery, all of which she just completed on April 27. (And doesn't it seem as if she was still traveling the world throughout that whole period?)
Because she was, for the most part, marveling how waking up "with drain tubes and expanders in your breasts...does feel like a scene out of a science-fiction film. But days after surgery you can be back to a normal life."
"During that time I have been able to keep this private and to carry on with my work," Jolie acknowledged. "But I am writing about it now because I hope that other women can benefit from my experience. Cancer is still a word that strikes fear into people's hearts, producing a deep sense of powerlessness. But today it is possible to find out through a blood test whether you are highly susceptible to breast and ovarian cancer, and then take action."
And for sharing her story, many women will surely be thanking her in the morning.