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:
"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
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