Joanna Rudnick on "BRCA-Mommy-Hood"

Ahead of tonight's WTTW Chicago broadcast of In the Family, director/producer Joanna Rudnick reflects on the past decade of her life: living with the knowledge that she is genetically predisposed to a high chance of suffering from breast and ovarian cancer, making an award-winning film about the consequences of that knowledge and its effect on other women with the BRCA gene mutation, and finally, giving birth to a beautiful baby girl!

Read Joanna's moving blog below and watch a video update below:

BRCA-Mommy-Hood

"It's been ten years since I opened up that terrifying piece of paper. Ten years of waiting for the results of transvaginal ultrasounds and CA125 blood tests, ten years of mammograms and breast MRIs. Ten years of talking to doctors about removing body parts. Ten years of silent war with my breasts and ovaries, tiptoeing around them, hoping they will forget that we’re BRCA+, that they’ll cooperate, that they won’t turn against me.

Last September, everything changed. I got pregnant. I gave my ovaries permission to turn on again, and they worked! As soon as I saw that pink plus sign, they were no longer enemy number one. My ultrasounds became something to look forward to as hands, arms, a four-chambered heart and little ears materialized in front of my eyes. Gone was the panic of staring at the same blobs over and over again trying to read the tech’s expression: Why was she taking so many pictures? Why wasn’t she making conversation? What wasn’t she telling me? Funny how that same technology could now bring big smiles, and pictures that I could email home to my mom in Chicago.

I went days, even weeks, without thinking about BRCA. It was a little BRCA-free vacation of sorts.

Two months ago, after twelve hours of labor, I gave birth to Eloise. I was in love. I held her to my breast and fed her, watching as she gulped, dumbfounded that I could actually feed my little girl with those same breasts that had been a source of so much agony. They were doing what they were supposed to do and for this short window of time, they were temporarily off the table.

Is the BRCA-free vacation over? Yes. And no.

I wish I could look at Eloise without thinking of my own mortality. But I can’t. I have to be here to watch her take her first steps, say her first words, go on her fist date, and get over her first heartbreak. This means that my newfound love for my breasts and ovaries will have to come to an end (hopefully, I can give her a sibling first).

I used to think of myself in a perpetual struggle with BRCA (I even anthropomorphized the mutation enough to imagine its shape and form, a little like an ugly worm). I was doing everything I could to try and cheat fate, outsmart that little worm. By making a film about living in a BRCA world, I was hiding in plain sight.

I wish now that I could have a conversation with my 27-year-old self paralyzed by that crippling piece of paper, beginning the process of building walls and despising her womanhood. I would give her permission to take BRCA-free days (even if they were only imaginary). Tell her that in ten years, she’ll be eager to surrender her breasts and ovaries for the joys of nighttime lullabies and the wonderful monotony of reading the same book over and over again."

- Joanna Rudnick

 

You can watch In the Family online on Video on Demand or on DVD. Watch a video update to Joanna's story, made to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Friends of Prentice:

Comments

Thank you for your story. I too carry the BRCA Mutations. I am scheduled to have an Oophorectomy . Funny how not many people know this word and this email is telling me the spelling is wrong. I am also going to talk to a breast surgeon about a bilateral prophylactic mastectomy. I'm 49, i have three daughters, 20,23 and 8. My last child at 41:), Big Surprise.. I am blessed. I have been agonizing over this for about a year. I worry about my daughters. They want to be tested but I am afraid for them. They are so young and to carry this burden around, when they find the man they will marry, will he understand? I do want to live for my girls, I want to be strong for them too. I am glad I had you tonight to write to. You have a beautiful baby girl..Enjoy! Thanks for listening ~Christina

Mazal Tov! She is so beautiful and I'm so happy for you. Thank you for your precious words and for your clarity. Let me know if you ever make it up to Seattle. Dana

Dear Joanna, Thank you so much for your moving blog! please keep writing. The fact that your mom is still alive is very encouraging. You are a talented young woman and now also a mom :-). Hearty Mazel Tov to you! I'm sure Eloise has the best mom ever. Enjoy your growing family and remember that every day is a gift to marvel at... Warm Regards, Dana's mom

Fantastic documentary! I cried throughtout! I too carry BRCA 1, I have known for 6 years now and I am only 28 year old. I share SO MANY of the same thoughts, worries, concerns over my family that I have started. Can you tell me more about this program that you are in? I have not found a "good" medical center, doctor, or program that believes in such close monitoring and tracking. I want to do all I can to prevent and detect these cancers. I was just wondering if you would share with me what the program is, how you went about finding such great doctors, or any advice you can share about how I could develop/find physicians that are so invloved and proactive in fighting BRCA. Thank you for your touching story! Congrats on you precious baby girl! I have two sons (ages 4 and 1 yr) and there is nothing like being a mom! Sincerely, Abby M.

I carry the BRCA 2 mutation. Unfortunately I lost my mother when I was 12 to breast cancer. Thank you so much for your inspirational video and blogs. I am 35 years old and had an oophorectomy and mastectomy with reconstruction last year (2010). I am a mom to three wonderful children (4 1/2 year old daughter and twins who are 2 1/2). I knew what it was like to lose my mother at such a young age and was determined to not fall into the same fate. My husband has been my rock and has gone to each and every appointment through it all. I encourage those of you with the mutation to see a genetic counselor and find out more about your options. It was a tough year going through three surgeries with such young children. I have to say it was worth it as a weight has been lifted off my shoulders now that everything has been completed. I have a wonderful support system which include my friends, family and doctors who have helped me through this process. Since my mother died before this genetic test was available, I took it upon myself to see if this was the link to our family. Congrats on your new baby daughter...you have helped many other women by allowing us to be a part of your life! Thank you!

Thanks, all, for the lovely comments. Abby, I apologize for the delay in my response. I am carefully monitored through the Northwestern Ovarian Cancer Early Detection and Prevention Program in Chicago. My main physician through that program is Dr. Lee Shulman. http://www.nmh.org/nm/ovarian-cancer-northwestern-ovarian-cancer-early-d... In making the film, I discovered that the best care for BRCA+ women can often be found at comprehensive cancer centers, if one is available where you live. A good start would be to locate a genetic counselor near you who has experience with predictive genetic testing for BRCA (perhaps, you have one already?). This is a useful link to the National Society of Genetic Counselors service to locate a counselor near you: http://www.nsgc.org/tabid/69/Default.aspx I wish you the best of luck in the future, and hope you find a supportive medical team - you deserve it! Joanna