LUCY NICHOLSON/AFP/Getty
People Staff
March 25, 2015 07:20 PM

Angelina Jolie has held fast to one thought since undergoing her second preventative cancer surgery.

“I know my children will never have to say, ‘Mom died of ovarian cancer,’ ” she wrote in a New York Times op-ed published Tuesday.

Jolie revealed that she underwent her most recent procedure (to remove her ovaries and fallopian tubes) because her doctors had suggested preventative surgery “about a decade before the earliest onset of cancer in my female relatives.” The actress’s mother, Marcheline Bertrand, died of ovarian cancer in 2007 at age 56.

“My mother’s ovarian cancer was diagnosed when she was 49,” she wrote. “I’m 39.”

Now the life she has built with husband Brad Pitt and their six children feels somewhat safer. “I feel feminine, and grounded in the choices I am making for myself and my family,” she wrote of her decision.

Of course, this isn’t the first time Jolie has spoken of her mother’s tremendous influence on her life. “My mom loved being a mom and made sure her children knew every day how much joy we brought to her,” the Oscar winner has said. “I hope to give that to my kids.”

An aspiring actress before becoming a mom to Jolie and her brother James Haven, 41, Bertrand “was grace incarnate,” Jolie told 60 Minutes in 2011. “I will never be as good a mother as she was.”

Before Bertrand’s death, Jolie was a frequent visitor at her apartment at the L’Ermitage Beverly Hills hotel in L.A. And though Bertrand was unable to fly to Namibia for the birth of Jolie and Pitt’s daughter Shiloh in 2006, she took enormous pride in her grandchildren.

“My heart is overflowing with joy,” she told PEOPLE at the time.

Jolie, who carries the BRCA1 gene mutation that increases her risk for cancer and thus elected to have a double mastectomy in 2013, lost her maternal grandmother and aunt to cancer as well.

“There is no longevity on my mother’s side of the family . . . But [my mother] lived to see her grandchildren, lived to see both me and my brother in a nice place,” she told Esquire in 2007. “She waited till everyone was okay. Then she closed her eyes.”

Eight years after her death, Bertrand remains a constant presence in her daughter’s family life.

Pitt had a dedication to his late mother-in-law engraved inside the chapel where he and Jolie were married last year, and Jolie wore a ring that was Bertrand’s for the ceremony.

And as Jolie faces her own health challenges head-on, the resolve and strength Bertrand showed at the end of her life is evident in her daughter as well.

“I will not be able to have any more children, and I expect some physical changes,” Jolie wrote. “But I feel at ease with whatever will come, not because I am strong but because this is a part of life. It is nothing to be feared.”

Reporting by MARY GREEN

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