Angelina Jolie really can do no wrong. Her red carpet appearances are flawless (save perhaps for the leg incident), and even at 37 she's still one of the most stunning celebrities in Hollywood. Add to that she's a talented actress and director and it's fair to say we've often glowed green with envy at the sight of her.
But with today's news, most of us, particularly the females, will feel something other than envy; admiration, sympathy, perhaps reassurance. The star has written for the New York Times to reveal that in recent months she has had a double mastectomy in order to reduce her chances of developing breast cancer.
In an article titled My Medical Choice , Jolie explained that doctors estimated she had an 87% risk of breast cancer and a 50% risk of ovarian cancer, due to the 'faulty' gene BRCA1. Having lost her mother to the disease, who died aged 56, she explains that she wanted to be able to assure her six children they wouldn't lose their mother to the same illness and chose instead to be proactive.
"Once I knew that this was my reality, I decided to be proactive and to minimize the risk as much I could. I made a decision to have a preventive double mastectomy. I started with the breasts, as my risk of breast cancer is higher than my risk of ovarian cancer, and the surgery is more complex," Jolie wrote in the paper.
The procedure involves major surgery, where the breast tissue is removed and temporary fillers are used; nine weeks later the surgery is finished with a reconstruction of the breasts using an implant.
The Tomb Raider actress says she is left with just small scars - and incredibly, she has reduced her chance of developing breast cancer to under 5%. She’s not the first celebrity to speak up about having the operation; both Sharon Osbourne and Michelle Heaton have had the treatment.
As well as describing the procedure and the reasons behind it, Jolie spoke of the support of her partner Brad Pitt, who was there every step of the way. "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."
Angelina Jolie's op-ed in the New York Times is not only moving, but very brave; the decision to have a double mastectomy is not to be made lightly but her public sharing of her story will no doubt help and reassure many women out there who are affected by breast cancer every day, be it a relative's suffering or concerns for their own health knowing they have the fateful gene.
As Jolie points out, breast cancer alone kills 458,000 people a year (according to the World Health Organization); to be able to take control and avoid becoming another one in that statistic is a huge development in fighting the disease, though she does acknowledge the expense of the tests and treatment are still an obstacle for many women.
Jolie herself said she feels all the better for making the choice. "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." We hope her bravery has helped to empower women worldwide - she's certainly made an impression on us.
In the UK, this treatment is available on the NHS if you are found to have the gene - for more information on the procedure and your options, visit www.nhs.uk