Caitlin Brodnick is just like lots of women in their late 20s. She lives in NYC, chases her passions as a comedian and has a day job as a legal secretary, is married, and is also BRCA1 positive. Yup, that same gene that prompted Angelina Jolie to get her preventative double mastectomy. But well before Angie had the buzz-worthy surgery, Caitlin was considering going under the knife, given her odds of developing breast cancer. Yet, it wasn't until recently that she finally took the leap ... all while being documented by Glamour magazine's cameras for a docu-series called Screw You Cancer.
For doing this, Caitlin is both bold and brave. She's also hilarious, sweet, real, and willing to chat with us about her experience on- and off-camera ...
What inspired you to do the series in the first place? When did you start filming?
One of my friends works at Glamour, and I was just going to do personal blogs, but then they got a documentary team. September 5 was the surgery, so everything is in real time. I still need one more operation to be finished, which is on November 9, and then I'll be finally done. It's a long process.
What factors lead to you deciding to have the surgery?
My dad's whole family has been affected. My dad's sister got it at 27 or 28 ... ignored it 'til it became too terrible. They did chemo, [but] she died at 32. So it was always this understanding -- you have to get your screenings. My dad told me about this 9-10 years ago, I didn't want to get the screening for about 6 years, because I was so stressed out by it. I had a feeling I'd have breast cancer. I had this feeling of impending doom. My sister got the genetic test about 6 years ago, and she was negative. So everyone was asking me to get it, too. So, 3 years ago, I got it [and found out I was positive]. And it took me 3 years and a lot of tears and late night talks with my husband, wondering, "What if I die of cancer?" I talked it out for a while. There were a lot of irrational fears with rational fears.
I was waiting to be 40, so I could be finished having kids and see if I could breastfeed. [But that also meant] having to go for extra screenings and being a patient who could get cancer. I hated being that patient. And when I thought about it, what I really wanted was to get the surgery. ... I went to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and I got to work with some of the best doctors. It's also covered by my insurance.
Do you feel like the financial aspect is one of the biggest misconceptions about the BRCA testing and surgery?
It's not for the rich and famous, for Angelina Jolie only. She was just one of the first to [discuss] it. There was a law passed recently -- insurance has to cover it if you have the gene.
How do you feel about having your journey covered in this sort of reality show documentary format?
I wanted to do it on my own. A friend said, "You lose the narrative if you don't do it yourself." But Conde Nast found a documentary filmmaker who had the same vision I had. And that was really important, and they were sensitive. If there was someone I didn't like, I had veto power. There were times I kinda had a panic, like, "I don't want cameras, and I don't want people to look at me." [But, Screw You Cancer] is exactly what I was looking for when I was Googling around about the surgery. I didn't want them to come with me on the day of surgery, but they need to see what's happening. It was overwhelming at times, but it made me really brave. Cuz I can't do it for me. There are times I don't feel like sitting up and putting on lip gloss and talking to anyone, but I can do it for this other girl who may be confused or afraid out there. It gave me so much more strength.
Could you describe the vision you had for the series?
I didn't want it to be a sad, intense, depressing cancer story. I'm sick of those! It's like why do you wanna sit around and cry? There are moments where it may be too sensitive for some people, but I wanted it to have elements of light. This is a preventative measure, not some fantastical thing. I wanted to demystify the whole process.
There are several clips in which your mom is having a really tough time with your decision to have the surgery. How did you feel about her reaction?
She had a harder time with the reality. It was interesting ... I didn't know she had any reservations. In my mind and in my bubble, I had thought it wouldn't be so traumatic for her to hear. She'd been through four really intense cancer journeys [in our family], and they had all failed, and she's buried a lot of amazing people. I think no matter what, she felt like it's coming to her daughter next.
How do you feel about the backlash against testing and preventative mastectomy and the argument that maybe diet and stress are bigger factors than DNA?
Melissa Etheridge has a point! Some things can be caused by environment and food. But with this genetic mutation, it doesn't matter. I understand the confusion. There are different ways you can come across breast cancer, and I think it's important to be healthy. I remain on a very healthy diet, but when I looked at the numbers and saw my risk percentage ... And I do think there's something about mind over matter in health. If I am walking around thinking I'm going to get it, it's putting me in a sick place. But I'm the worst patient. I was seeing other people being treated for cancer the same time I was getting [MRI] screenings every 6 months. But I stopped going for 2 years, and that was very dangerous. I couldn't bring myself to go, and I told my family members, and they got incredibly upset. That was a huge key for me. I thought I could just do screenings, but I wasn't making the appointments, seeing the doctors, etc. I wasn't able to treat myself in that way. Surgery was an effective way for me. If I were left to my own devices, I wouldn't have gone.
What do you hope women take away from the series?
I wanted to be as informed as possible, and I wanted to provide that to the next person. I think for me, I feel so relieved that this is something that is really important to talk about -- people are thanking me for talking about it. My biggest thing -- if you think you could have [BRCA1 or BRCA2], at least get screenings, go get your bi-annual mammograms. Don't let the cancer sneak up on you and win and catch you off-guard. People are comfortable getting checked for other things, why not this?
Here's Caitlin in the current episodes of Screw You Cancer:
What are your thoughts on what Caitlin is doing by sharing her experience with this docu-series?
Image via Glamour Magazine/YouTube