Jolie's aunt (61) loses breast cancer battle
THE aunt of film star Angelina Jolie has died of breast cancer less than two weeks after the Hollywood actress revealed she had a double mastectomy to avoid the disease.
Debbie Martin died at age 61 at a hospital in Escondido, California, near San Diego, her husband Ron Martin said.
Mrs Martin was the younger sister of Jolie's mother, Marcheline Bertrand, whose own death from ovarian cancer in 2007 inspired the surgery that Jolie underwent.
According to Mr Martin, she had the same defective BRCA1 gene that Jolie does, but didn't know it until after her 2004 cancer diagnosis.
"Had we known, we certainly would have done exactly what Angelina did," Mr Martin said.
Debbie Martin's death was first reported by E! News.
Mr Martin said that after getting breast cancer, his wife had her ovaries removed preventively because she was also at very high genetic risk for ovarian cancer, which has killed several women in her family.
The 37-year-old Jolie said her doctors estimated she had a 50pc risk of getting ovarian cancer but an 87pc risk of breast cancer.
She had her breasts removed first in February, followed by reconstruction with implants in April, reducing her likelihood to a mere 5pc. She described the three-step surgical process in detail in an article for the 'New York Times', saying: "I hope that other women can benefit from my experience."
The story, a surprise to most save those closest to Jolie, spurred a broad discussion of genetic testing and pre-emptive surgery.
Jolie and her brother had visited Mrs Martin several times, Mr Martin said.
"Angelina has been sending her wishes," he said.
"She and my wife texted each other. It was difficult for my wife, during the last few months, to communicate."
The Oscar-winner, who is to marry Brad Pitt, was widely praised for her courage by health campaigners and politicians. The actress, a United Nations special envoy for its work with refugees, said the reason behind her decision was to reassure her three biological and three adopted children that the illness which claimed their grandmother would not do the same to her.
"I can tell my children they don't need to fear they will lose me to breast cancer," Jolie said. Her operation has undoubtedly sharpened the debate over genetic diagnosis, allowing high-risk patients to take pre-emptive action against life-threatening diseases.