Angelina Jolie, known for being fiercely private, has made a very personal disclosure.
The Oscar-winning actress reveals in an emotional op-ed for the New York Times that she underwent a double mastectomy earlier this year after a blood test showed she was genetically susceptible to cancer.
"The truth is I carry a 'faulty' gene, BRCA1, which sharply increases my risk of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer," she writes. "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."
The 37-year-old mother of six says her decision was triggered in part by the death of her mother, Marcheline Bertrand, who passed away from cancer at the age of 56.
Over the course of three months, beginning in February and ending in late April, Jolie went through a series of medical procedures to have her breasts removed and then reconstructed. And her fiancé, Brad Pitt, stood by her side every step of the way.
"I am fortunate to have a partner, Brad Pitt, who is so loving and supportive," says Jolie. "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."
Though she managed to keep the procedures under wraps, she says that she wanted to come forward now "because I hope that other women can benefit from my experience."
Jolie -- who says her chance of developing breast cancer has dropped "from 87 percent to under 5 percent" -- encourages any woman who is considering taking such a major step in safeguarding their health to discuss their risk factors with doctors as well as their options.
"On a personal note, I do not feel any less of a woman," she says. "I feel empowered that I made a strong choice that in no way diminishes my femininity."
"Life comes with many challenges," she concludes. "The ones that should not scare us are the ones we can take on and take control of."