Angelina Jolie’s aunt, Debbie Martin, died May 26 at age 61 after a nine-year battle with breast cancer. Martin, the sister of Angelina’s late mother, Marcheline Bertrand, had the same BRCA1 gene that predisposed her to breast and ovarian cancer that Jolie recently tested positive for. Bertrand died of ovarian cancer in 2007 at age 56.
Unfortunately, Debbie didn’t learn she was carrying the BRCA1 gene until she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004.
Her husband, Ron Martin, told E! Debbie was proud of Jolie’s decision to undergo a preventive double mastectomy and “would have done exactly what Angelina did” had she learned of her high cancer risk earlier.
“We have seen Angelina a number of times since Debbie was diagnosed with breast cancer and Debbie and I were both very proud of her recent decision to have the double mastectomy and to do everything she can to keep her family from having to go through what we’ve been through,” he said. “Angelina has been in touch throughout the week and her brother Jamie has been with us, giving his support day by day.
“Because of the BRCA gene in the maternal side of the family, Angelina did the smartest thing on earth. It takes a lot of courage to have your breasts removed.”
Indeed, Jolie’s family history indicates an extremely high cancer risk. Angelina’s maternal grandmother, grandfather and uncle all died of cancer.
Debbie Martin’s death comes just two weeks after Jolie revealed she had undergone a double mastectomy in February 2013 after tests indicated she had an 87 percent risk of getting breast cancer and a 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer. The procedure reduced Angelina’s breast-cancer risk to under five percent.
Jolie, who got reconstructive breast implants following her mastectomy, is doing well now, but plans to undergo surgery to remove her ovaries in the near future.
The ovary-removal procedure, called an oophorectomy, calls for the removal of both ovaries. Removing the ovaries reduces the risk of ovarian cancer by 80 to 90 percent by reducing the amount of estrogen and progesterone circulating in the body.
Jolie has said she’s undergoing the preventive surgeries because she wants to be around to see her six children grow up.
“I can tell my children that they don’t need to fear they will lose me to breast cancer,” said Angelina. “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.”
Jolie’s decision to go public with her double mastectomy has brought worldwide attention to cancer prevention. The move has been hailed as heroic by other celebrities, fans and her fiance, Brad Pitt.
“I find Angie’s choice, as well as so many others like her, absolutely heroic,” said Pitt, 49. “All I want for is for her to have a long and healthy life, with myself and our children.”