September 20, 2016 06:55 PM

She faced one of the most frightening challenges of her life. And he helped her through it.

Before Angelina Jolie Pitt filed for divorce from husband Brad Pitt, the 41-year-old actress said his strength and devotion helped her through two life-changing surgeries and cancer scares.

As Jolie’s doctor Kristi Funk told PEOPLE, Pitt was by Jolie’s side for every procedure in 2013 when she had preventive double mastectomy – a decision she came to after genetic tests showed she carried a mutated BRCA1 gene predisposing her to developing breast cancer.

He was there too after a 2015 ovarian cancer scare lead her to remove her ovaries and fallopian tubes. (Jolie’s mother died of ovarian cancer in 2007 at age 56).

Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt
Jennifer Mitchell/Splash News Online

Writing about her decisions in two candid op-eds in The New York Times, Jolie praised her husband for being her no. 1 support.

“I am fortunate to have a partner, Brad Pitt, who is so loving and supportive,” she wrote in 2013. 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,” she added. “And it has.”

In her 2015 op-ed, she said she immediately turned to her husband for support after a doctor told her a blood test showed markers that could be a sign of early ovarian cancer. Pitt dropped everything and traveled to be there for Jolie.

Angelina Jolie on the May 27, 2013 cover of PEOPLE

“I called my husband in France, who was on a plane within hours,” Jolie wrote. “The beautiful thing about such moments in life is that there is so much clarity. You know what you live for and what matters. It is polarizing, and it is peaceful.”

Pitt was just as outspoken about his supportive for Jolie at the time. “Having witnessed this decision firsthand, I find Angie’s choice, as well as many others like her, absolutely heroic,” he said in a 2013 statement. “All I want is for her to have a long and healthy life, with myself and our children.

“This is a happy day for our family,” he continued.

At home “Brad did everything he could to keep things secret and protect Angie,” a family insider told PEOPLE.

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie
Ash Knotek/Zuma

Using early-morning appointments and rental cars to avoid discovery, “they really wanted Angie to be able to recover and rest before they shared the story. Brad was very attentive and sweet to Angie. He always dotes on her anyway.”

Celebrating special occasions in a big way was a hallmark of their relationship – and one that helped them get through Jolie’s health crisis.

“Every event is cherished,” Plan B exec Dede Gardner told PEOPLE. “Every birthday is cherished. The holidays are cherished. Events are made of every moment in the most positive way.”

“This is an admirable person – a man with a deep love for his family,” Pitt’s friend and furniture-design partner Frank Pollaro told PEOPLE.

There were elaborate, custom gifts, too: Jolie commissioned a diamond pendant for Pitt engraved with a microscopic love message; Pitt designed a jeweled bracelet for Jolie for a Christmas present.

In the middle of her surgeries, they held a family gift exchange on Valentine’s Day and went camping with the kids on Easter weekend for their annual Easter egg hunt.

“We’ve been through so much,” the actress told PEOPLE in 2014. As they raise their six children, “we’ve gotten a lot closer, which I think naturally happens with raising a family together,” she said. “You have history. … You have this person who really knows you, and you know them so well. You’re not lovers or boyfriend and girlfriend as much as you are a family.”

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