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UPDATED: Angelina Jolie reveals she had a double mastectomy.

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UPDATED: Yesterday, in an exclusive article for the New York Times, Angelina Jolie revealed that she had a double mastectomy.

Since then, celebrities have come out to express their support for the 37-year-old mum of six.

Guiliana Rancic – an E! News presenter who also had a double mastectomy just over a year ago – wrote a blog post for E! Online, applauding Angelina’s choice to go public with the information:

Giuliana
Giuliana

What does this surgery mean for Angelina? Well, for one, it will not define her, but it will change her. It will make her life fuller knowing that she doesn’t have to look over her shoulder like she did when she had an 87 percent risk of breast cancer and 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer.

… Most importantly, what does her news mean to you? What it means is simple. The most important thing for you to do today is to gather your family’s cancer history on your mother’s side and yes, even your father’s side, and take it to a doctor you trust to start the conversation.

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Angelina’s husband, Brad Pitt, also spoke to London’s Evening Standard about Angelina’s decision. According to E! Online, he called her action “absolutely heroic”, adding: “All I want…is for her to have a long and healthy life, with myself and our children. This is a happy day for our family.”

Angelina originally mentioned Brad in her New York Times article, saying that he “is so loving and supportive”.

Brad Pitt’s mother, Jane Pitt, also released a statement saying that she was “so very proud” of what Angelina had done. “This means so much to our family especially our grandchildren,” she added.

James Haven, Angelina’s brother, has also commented about the decision, saying that he is “so grateful to be her brother”. He wrote: “My sister like our mother always put her children first.”

Meanwhile, Angelina’s father John Voight said he saw Angelina just two days ago and didn’t know.

Voight told The New York Daily News: ‘I saw her two days ago with my son Jamie. We all got together for his birthday, with her and Brad [Pitt]. But I didn’t know. It wasn’t obvious at all.”

“My love and admiration for my daughter can’t be explained in words.”

Yesterday, Angelina Jolie wrote that she has a “faulty” gene, BRCA1. Her doctor’s estimated that this gave her an 87 percent risk of breast cancer and a 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer. As a result, Angelina opted for a preventative mastectomy and finished the three months of medical procedures on April 27.

She wrote:

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.

There’s a history here. Tragically, Angelina’s mother died at the age of 56 in 2007 after a decade of fighting ovarian cancer.

In a 2011 interview with 60 minutes, Angelina praised her mother and claimed that she “will never be as good a mother as she was… she was the most generous, loving – she’s better than me.”

And it was her death that largely triggered Angelina’s decision about the double mastectomy. Because, as she explains in the New York Times – Angelina’s children ask about their grandmother, who some of them never got to meet before she died.

In the New York Times article, Angelina explains the entire process behind a double mastectomy. She describes what happens during the first procedure, called a “nipple delay” where tests are done to establish whether there is disease behind or within the nipple and, while she admits it is painful and causes bruising, gave her the best chance of keeping her nipples despite losing her breasts. She then went through the major operation and writes about how it feels when you wake up, taking us through the final reconstruction of the breasts and explaining that the results “can be beautiful”.

And her reason for writing all of this? For taking us so far into her personal life, her cancer-related fears? She explains that too:

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I wanted to write this to tell other women that the decision to have a mastectomy was not easy. But it is one I am very happy that I made. My chances of developing breast cancer have dropped from 87 percent to under 5 percent. I can tell my children that they don’t need to fear they will lose me to breast cancer.

The BRCA1 gene is something all women need to know about. According to Pink Hope – an Australian charity set up to support women with the breast cancer gene – women who carry a fault in BRCA1 or BRCA2 have a high lifetime risk of breast cancer, estimated to be in the range of 30-60%, and a lifetime ovarian cancer risk of about 20%.

Pink Hope is a registered charity, established and founded by Krystal Barter in 2009 whilst recovering from her preventative double mastectomy. Krystal was only 22 years old when she discovered she had the BRCA1 gene fault that gave her an 85% chance of developing breast cancer. Barter’s mother, grandmother and great-grandmother all fought breast cancer at increasingly earlier ages so in 2009, when she was 25 years old, and with two young sons at home, Krystal had a pre-emptive double mastectomy.  Having experi­enced the isolation and lack of information for high risk families, Krystal created Pink Hope with the goal of providing unique and tangible resources.

The testing involves a sample of blood being taken from a woman in the family who has previously developed breast or ovarian cancer. The blood is then searched for the ‘faulty gene’ – and can take many months to complete testing. Genetic testing is only available through Family Cancer Clinics – for more information, you can see this list of family cancer clinics in Australia.

A double mastectomy is something that can save a woman’s life – but it can also change how a woman perceives herself. Jolie has demonstrated incredible strength and bravery in making this decision for the sake of her health and her family – and even more courage in writing about such a deeply personal matter, in order to educate other women about what can be done in the fight against breast cancer.

Another individual who is doing what he can to educate women about the effects of breast cancer is Sydney fashion photographer David Jay. Inspired by his friend Paula – who was diagnosed at age 32 – David began taking photos of young breast cancer survivors. All of the women photographed were between the ages of 18-35.

He called his series The SCAR Project – and the photographs are an exercise in awareness, hope, reflection and healing. The photographs in the project can be seen below.

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Angelina Jolie has today given a huge push to breast cancer awareness.

And breast cancer kills thousands of Australian women every year, so awareness is key. Please share this post with every woman you know.

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