Caitlin Brodnick, a 30-year-old comedian living in NYC with her husband, shares what it was like for her after learning she was BRCA1 positive.
By Caitlin Brodnick – I should have a PHD from WebMD, because, well I act like I do.
Have a cough? I will Google it for you. Let me just go online and stare at the hundreds of tips, solutions, and gory photos that provide me with just enough information to decide you have 3 weeks to live and are probably allergic to gluten.
This addiction grew to new depths when I was diagnosed with the BRCA1 Gene Mutation, meaning I had a lifetime chance of getting breast cancer of up to 87%. While providing me with the test results my doctor strongly recommended I meet with a genetic counselor to have the information clearly explained in detail. I turned it down, I didn’t want to, I was terrified. Cancer had taken so many of my loved ones. Even though this was not a diagnosis, I felt closer to cancer than ever before and I ran. I ran right to the open arms of the World Wide Web.
WebMD was my new homepage. That symptom checker feature- forget it, I was one click away from convincing myself I had Lyme disease.
“I had a lifetime chance of getting breast cancer of up to 87%.”
This was petrifying. I would sit all day at work and hunt for the magic clues I would need to save my life. I felt somehow more in control, and I was going to get as much evidence as possible.
I found plenty of information on cancer prevention with nutrition and exercise. I was so relieved. Diets aren’t scary, I have been a diet since I was 12! So of course, I became a passionate carcinogenic avoiding vegan. My Netflix queue was filled with cancer documentaries. I was -in a word- obsessed.
By the way: I love new fad diets and I get way too excited about all of them. I am hooked on the hope, excitement, and empty promises. But this was different. Eating this way was actually proven in some cases to help prevent cancer. It was actually supported by the medical community and not just Beyoncé!
I also read that having children early would help lower my chances of breast cancer. My new husband and I were in no way ready to start a family. But because I read about it in two different articles, no quiet dinner was without “the talk.” It would almost always end in tears, not because we disagreed about having kids but because I was so scared.
After two years of my own personal cancer prevention witch-hunt, I finally agreed to meet with a genetic counselor. I proudly discussed my vegan diet and the advances I had read about Vitamin C supplements in addition to other treatments. I wasn’t just any patient. I was a patient that Googled.
“Caitlin, nutrition is very important, but this cancer is heredity-based. Your cells are genetically predisposed to mutate into cancer cells, regardless of how healthy you eat,” my genetic counselor explained.
Ummm where was that blog post!? I felt like I was hit with a sledgehammer. ALL OF THE ICE CREAM I GAVE UP WAS FOR NOTHING!?
Then he said some other very important things but I must have blacked out in a vegan rage.
I had been reading the wrong information for 2 years. I had looked up breast cancer prevention, not BRCA heredity-based breast cancer resulting from a genetic mutation. It was bigger than a misdiagnosis: it was total denial, and at this point incredibly embarrassing.
Internet searches felt safe. I could hide behind my computer and avoid my regular cancer screenings appointments. I was trying to control as much as I could alone because I irrationally thought if I did see a genetic counselor they would tell me I only had 2 days to live. Instead they gave me permission to have a burger, with a side of hope!
This opened my eyes, I was so busy reading and researching the wrong information I wasn’t taking proper care of myself. I didn’t want to be a cancer patient, and I really didn’t want to be vegan.
I had a serious discussion with my husband after this appointment, and we went over the future, this time without tears but with facts.
And with all of the correct information and help from my genetic counselor, therapist, and family members, I decided to have a preventative double mastectomy. This is what I wanted, what I fantasized about- living my life without the fear of dying of breast cancer. I had the surgery and let the oncologists and plastic surgeons take the lead. It was difficult at times but and also the best decision I have ever made. Now finally I feel peace.
Caitlin documented her journey in the award-winning video series, Screw You Cancer. You can watch more episodes here.
About The Contributor
Caitlin Brodnick is a performer and member of the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre’s MAUDE sketch team (212). She performs sketch, standup, and storytelling regularly in New York City and Los Angeles.
Caitlin works closely with the organization FORCE, and Sloan Kettering Memorial Hospital as a breast cancer awareness advocate, helping to connect with other women who are BRCA positive.