You might not be surprised to learn that I’ve never met either Angelina Jolie or Jennifer Aniston. I don’t think either of the Hollywood A-Listers have ever been to Derry - and I’ve certainly never been to the wacky world of Los Angeles.
Still, my not having met either of them has not stopped me from forming very definite opinions on the pair of them.
Jennifer Aniston is the kind of woman you’d want for your best friend (except you know, she is exceptionally glam and gorgeous and I’d look like a beached whale beside her). She seems funny, flighty, loyal and modest.
I felt horribly wronged for her when husband Brad Pitt took off with Jolie, leaving her very publicly broken hearted. I thought of her wedding picture, where she gazed so lovingly into the eyes of her beloved Brad Pitt after reciting her self-penned vows to him. It seemed wrong that Brad Pitt, who always seemed to be just as equally in love with Aniston, would look elsewhere.
Like many people who grew up watching Aniston play Rachel in ‘Friends’, I kind of felt as if I really knew her and her break-up with Pitt was just as devastatingly wrong as the on-screen break up of Rachel and Ross.
Angelina Jolie - the catalyst for this break up - was immediately in my mind painted as a bad, bad, horrible person, a home-wrecker. She had broken the girl code, she had messed with another woman’s husband.
With her vampishly intimidating good looks, the long legs, the piercing gaze she quickly was cast as a bad egg and there she has stayed ever since.
It doesn’t matter that she and Pitt are still together, seem really rather happy and have six beautiful children. In my mind their relationship has always been wrong, starting with the betrayal of a seemingly innocent party. (Of course I know I’m piecing together celebrity gossip tidbits here, and there was probably much more at play).
The battle lines were drawn. Were you Team Aniston or Team Jolie?
But this week Jolie has surprised me. It was revealed on Tuesday that the 37 year old actress has undergone a double mastectomy after learning she was carrying the BRCA1 gene which gave her an 87% chance of developing breast cancer and a 50% chance of developing ovarian cancer.
As breast cancer claimed the life of Jolie’s mother Marchelina Bertrand at just 56 years of age, Jolie herself said she was not prepared to risk her health, citing her children as her main inspiration.
So Jolie underwent a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery over a period of three months, during which time she kept up with her public engagements at various humanitarian and charitable events.
It is expected that due to her increased risk of ovarian cancer she will also undergo a radical hysterectomy and Oophorectomy (removal of her uterus and ovaries).
Her decision cannot have been easy. On the most primitive, feminine and perhaps vain level to have her breasts and her reproductive organs removed chips away at her very identity. As someone who has stood in the breast clinic undergoing a mammogram, the thought that there is any possibility of such radical surgery - even if it may prove to be life saving - is terrifying.
To live with a ticking timebomb - an 87% chance of developing breast cancer - must be horrendous. As one commentator put it, if you were told your plane had a 87% chance of crashing you wouldn’t get on it, would you?
But what inspires me most about Jolie is not that she has undergone this surgery in the first instance. I have a writer friend - the very talented Emma Hannigan - who made the same choice several years ago and whose story I have listened to with a deep sense of admiration.
What inspires me about Jolie is how she has spoken of it afterwards. She did not need to - noone would have known - but in her speaking up she has given a voice to all women who have, or may develop, breast cancer and who may face the same treatment.
Her words struck me as strong, confident and positive. And to have a woman - recognised as one of the great beauties in our society - speak out on this subject will move mountains.
“I feel empowered that I made a strong choice that in no way diminishes my femininity,” she said.
“For any woman reading this, I hope it helps you to know you have options,
“I want to encourage every woman, especially if you have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, to seek out the information and medical experts who can help you through this aspect of your life, and to make your own informed choices.”
Angelina Jolie has struck a blow for modern woman. She has fought against cancer, before it even had a chance to take hold. She has put the needs of her children first. She has stood strong and continued with her work, showing true strength of character and she has helped empower women who face their own battles.
I still love our Jennifer, but a part of me now will belong to Team Jolie.