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Angelina Jolie: The courage to save lives

Angelina Jolie, right, is seen with her mother, Marcheline Bertrand, in a July 31, 2001, photo. Bertrand died from cancer at 56.

Angelina Jolie, right, is seen with her mother, Marcheline Bertrand, in a July 31, 2001, photo. Bertrand died from cancer at 56.

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“I hope that this will be helpful to other women,” Angelina Jolie wrote in a New York Times op-ed Tuesday, revealing that she recently underwent a double mastectomy to stave off a genetic risk for breast cancer.

Sparing few details, Jolie explains that doctors determined her odds of developing breast cancer were 87 percent; she also faces a 50 percent risk of developing ovarian cancer, the disease her mother died of in 2007. The mother of six, Jolie elected to act preventively, having both of her breasts removed. Now, she writes, “I can tell my children that they don’t need to fear they will lose me to breast cancer.”

The genetic tests Jolie received are a relatively new innovation, and many women are just now approaching painful decisions about whether to seek them, and what to do if they come back positive. Jolie’s choice might not be the right one for someone else. Yet in the clinical, serious tone that she adopts to describe her treatment — using terms like “drain tubes,” “breast ducts,” and “bruising” — Jolie challenges society to move beyond secrecy and fear in discussing diseases like breast cancer. She openly dismisses the idea that her femininity is now diminished. And she empowers other women to start taking charge of their bodies. With her boldness, Jolie will likely save lives.

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