Woman shares her reconstructive journey in Glamour docu-series
"I wasn't ready to be in a surgical patient again," Caitlin Brodnick wrote in a blog post for Glamour magazine. "I was apprehensive, worried, and obsessed with comparing the last experience with this one."
Brodnick was describing her most recent taxicab ride through uptown Manhattan, ferrying her to one last surgery. The procedure would mark the end of a lengthy health journey - breast reconstruction following a double mastectomy.
Learning you're BRCA1 positive
Although Brodnick did not have breast cancer, the 28-year-old New York-based comedian tested positive for BRCA1, a gene that is typically found in the cells of breast tissue. According to the National Cancer Institute, when there is a mutation of BRCA1 - or BRCA2 - present in breast tissue, it is usually harmful. The cells continue to produce more genetic mutations, which in turn increases a woman's likelihood of developing breast and ovarian cancer.
In May 2013, Angelina Jolie helped foster public awareness of these two gene mutations, which are hereditary, when the actress published an Op-Ed for The New York Times about her decision to undergo a preventive double mastectomy. Jolie, whose mother died from breast cancer, found that she carried the BRCA1 mutation and had an 87 percent risk of the disease.
Like Jolie, Brodnick chose to have all of her breast tissue removed, so "they're sewing me up like an envelope," she says in one video. However, at 28, Brodnick is younger than most mastectomy patients. So, the comedian decided to document her health journey for young women in a Glamour docu-series called "Screw You Cancer."
"I want to help as many people become informed and learn about this gene and what it means," Brodnick wrote in her first post.
Through the video series, Brodnick allows viewers to enter her world of doctors' offices, hospital beds and operating rooms, showing what it's like to confront cancer and lose your breasts.
Life after mastectomy
While a double mastectomy may not be the right choice for every woman, it can be worth it in the long run. The National Cancer Institute notes that the procedure can reduce the risk of breast cancer by at least 95 percent in women with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation.
Once the double mastectomy is completed, the journey is far from over, as patients now have to adjust to having their breasts removed. In a segment titled "Reconstructive Surgery: Feeling Good About Your Breasts after a Double Mastectomy," Brodnick reveals that she was afraid to lose her breasts - even though she always felt they were "too large" for her frame, she loved how "feminine" they were.
Fortunately, there are reconstruction options for both preventive mastectomy and breast cancer patients. Brodnick chose silicone gel-filled implants, which the FDA approves for reconstruction surgery. She received the implants six weeks after her double mastectomy.
But silicone gel-filled implants are not the only option. Plastic surgeons can also create new breasts by using the patient's own tissue from stomach or lower back. While tissue-flap procedures can result in more natural-feeling breasts, the surgery leaves two surgical sites and scars, according to the American Cancer Society.
Both implants and tissue-flap procedures can be done either immediately after the mastectomy or weeks later. The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery recommends that patients consult with a board-certified plastic surgeon prior to the mastectomy to discuss all the options.