Almost a year ago, when I first heard of the movie In the Family, I had one of those oh thank god feelings. It was just like every time I found a new BRCA-related blog, or when I discovered Jessica Queller’s book Pretty Is What Changes years ago. Like, finally, someone [else] understands.
Then I went to Netflix to add it to my queue, and saw it was categorized as “dark,” and I thought, “Really? Thanks, Netflix. I’m glad you think this situation that is a huge part of my life is dark. Awesome.” Then, because it was in my sad, dark BRCA-infested few months, I probably curled up in the fetal position and cried somewhere. (Actually, I was at work, so I did the next best thing and whined about it on Facebook.)
Anyway. I got around to watching the movie a month or so ago, and shortly after, I discovered my city was having a screening of In the Family as part of the Seattle Jewish Film Festival. I bought tickets for my mom and me and we attended this past Sunday.
Because I’d already watched the film, I really wanted to go to the screening for the panel discussion afterwards. The director, Joanna Rudnick, was in attendance, as were a few of the women profiled in the movie. I thought it would be interesting to hear their thoughts in real life.
First, let me say I really enjoyed the film. My mom wasn’t sure if she’d like it or if it would be “depressing,” but she really enjoyed it as well. I wish I’d seen it sooner because it might’ve helped with some of the feelings I was having when I got my results – although I guess there are a few parts that might’ve made me feel worse.
What I will say, though, is that my mom and I both agree that certain people seemed to make BRCA into, dare I say, a bigger deal than it is. And trust me, I never thought I’d say that. Joanna’s boyfriend in the film mentions her impending death a few times – but she doesn’t even have cancer. Joanna meets up with a few male friends who carry a BRCA mutation, and one of them tells her to get married before surgery – basically trap the guy so he won’t leave you once you have your terribly mis-figured breasts. This was my biggest fear upon receiving my results, but as the past year has unfolded, it’s not much of a worry. I do worry how I’ll feel about my own body – I don’t worry how a man will feel. I’m confident my current partner will love me no matter how my breasts look, and I’m confident that if he were to leave, there are plenty of men out there who love women even if their breasts aren’t 100% perfect. I got the impression, too, that the boyfriend in the film wasn’t the biggest fan of the idea of surgery.
The panel discussion was great. Joanna Rudnick, the women of the Hanke family, Dr. Mary Claire King (how did I not realize that a doctor at my alma mater is one of the people who pioneered the search for the BRCA mutations?!), and a genetic counselor/nurse from Virginia Mason all attended and spoke. As you may know, Ms. Rudnick is now married and expecting her first child. The Hanke sisters are all in their late 20s/early 30s; neither of the two BRCA+ sisters have yet had surgery.
I think it gave me some interesting perspective. A man in the audience asked, “I may be insensitive, but with the improving aesthetics of surgery, why haven’t any of you chosen that route?” Hearing a man ask that kind of hit me. When he mentioned being insensitive, I was expecting something like, “Why would you ever get surgery?” not what he actually said. But what it comes down to is that I sat there, at twenty-five, looking at an amazing, strong group of women who are years older than I yet haven’t made plans for surgery, and thought… why?
I’ve really come to terms with the fact that surgery is the right choice for me. I’ve accepted that my body will change, but I’m strangely confident that it will turn out looking as great as many other BRCA+ women’s do… or that I’ll be okay even if it doesn’t look perfect. I’m confident that I’m still deserving of love – from both myself and a partner – with or without natural breasts. Honestly, seeing In the Family gave me even more of that confidence, somehow. The only thing holding me back right now is the fear of surgery and pain and missing weeks of my life due to recovery.
I wanted to talk with some of the women afterwards, but being the shy and awkward person I am, I had no idea what to say. Instead my mom and I grabbed some lunch and coffee and drove around looking at rich people’s houses (yes, we clearly have exciting lives). It was great watching the film with my mom and getting her perspective on things… and realizing that even though one of us is a previvor and the other a survivor, our perspectives are pretty darn similar.
I’d definitely recommend anyone new to BRCA-land watch In the Family. It shares a lot of information in an understandable way (I particularly enjoy the animated scene with the girl taking her genes out for a walk… I’m way too easily amused), and it gives great insight into what’s really going on in BRCA mutants’ heads.
It’s funny. I always wanted a sense of community, but I never thought it would come in the form of devastating test results. I never thought I’d be part of this incredibly strong group of women (and men!) who are the subject of (still too few) books and movies and organizations. Next week is my one-year BRCAversary. Who would have thought I’d come this far?