Joining FORCES is the FORCE newsletter with news, views and supportive information for individuals concerned about hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.
by Joanna Rudnick
When I tested positive for a BRCA1 mutation five years ago, I never imagined I would be sharing my story with millions of people. I went through great lengths to keep it a secret; I tested anonymously, my screening appointments became “routine gynecological visits,” and my boyfriend at the time thought I was avoiding him. I lied to the only friend who knew I was getting tested, telling her I was negative.
I moved home to Chicago in 2003 to be closer to my family and to come to terms with my BRCA status. I slowly revealed my results to those around me and sought information to help make decisions about how to protect myself.
I am a filmmaker by trade. As I learned more about BRCA mutations, it became clear what my next project would be: In the Family, a film chronicling the lives of women at high risk for hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. In searching for these women I found FORCE. I immersed myself in their stories on the FORCE website. Then I contacted Sue Friedman and put out my first post on the message board—a call for women to share their stories for the film.
After numerous conversations with FORCE women, I realized I could no longer ask them to open up if I could not do it myself. In June of 2005, I attended my first FORCE support group in Philadelphia and filmed the experience. It was my first shoot for the documentary and my fi rst time going public with my story. Twelve women attended the meeting and shared openly. One of the women, Linda Pedraza, told her compelling story. Diagnosed with ovarian cancer, she completed treatment only to be diagnosed with breast cancer less than a year later. Four months after the shoot Linda was diagnosed with recurrence to her brain. I spent time filming her in her fi nal struggle with cancer and documenting its devastating impact on her family.
I was honored, but nervous when Sue asked me to premiere a sample of the film at the fi rst FORCE conference. Not only was I telling the stories of women like Linda, I was also revealing myself, my relationships, and my gravest fears. Would it be too difficult to watch Linda just weeks after she passed away? Would the women in the room feel I was representing their story with accuracy, integrity, honesty, and compassion? The first good sign was the laughter. The next was a comment from an audience member who could see her daughter’s story in Linda’s daughter, Nicole. Then attendees shared personal accounts and suggestions for making the documentary stronger. I left the room with a powerful circle of women around me. Through the film, I had found a community.
I recently received the following email from a FORCE member: “I’m happy you decided to become a major part of the piece and tell your story. It’s very important.”
And to think it was a story I was afraid to tell.
Joanna Rudnick is the Director of Development at Kartemquin Films. She is making her directorial debut with In the Family. She lives in Chicago.