It took a Hollywood superstar to shove into the global spotlight something that is a life-threatening reality for many New Zealand women.

The looming threat of breast cancer is difficult for any woman to ignore but to be told you carry the Brca gene that makes developing it more probable than possible must be gut-wrenching.

Last week, Angelina Jolie - one of the world's most beautiful and famous women - announced she carried the Brca gene and both her breasts had been removed in a pre-emptive strike against cancer.

The gene meant the actress had an 87 per cent chance of developing breast cancer.


Two things struck me as incredibly courageous about Jolie's decision.

Firstly, her decision to have the surgery in a bid to ensure she was there to watch her six children grow up and secondly that she told the world about it.

For a woman who makes a living from her looks and is worshipped by millions of adoring fans, admitting she had removed what were arguably her most feminine attributes must have been terrifying.

But when she did it, the world stopped, listened and learned what a Brca gene was.

The Hollywood star's double mastectomy was the lead story on the national news and her face glowed from the front page of the NZ Herald, forcing breast cancer into Kiwi households.

Around the country, stories of Kiwi families facing the reality of the Brca gene began to emerge.

Among them was Tauranga woman Jeanette Brown - one of three sisters who have all had double mastectomies.

Superstars or not, all these woman had to make the difficult decision to change the look of their bodies and lose part of themselves for the best chance in a fight genetics had forced them to take on.

Their courageous decision to speak out about the Brca gene has done more than any breast cancer awareness campaign could do.

No amount of money, celebrity or beauty could protect Jolie from the disease which killed her mother.

Her bravery has helped local survivors - the faces behind New Zealand's breast cancer statistics - come forward and show women the importance of regular breast checks.

About 2800 New Zealand women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year and anyone willing to share their story is a true hero.