Angelina and Joanna

On May 14, actress Angelina Jolie wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times entitled "My Medical Choice," where she revealed she had undergone a preventive double mastectomy due to the fact that she carried the BRCA1 mutation. Since then, numerous newspapers, blogs and radio shows have commented on Jolie's story and the choices women face when they find that they have a high risk of developing cancer in their lifetime.

Joanna Rudnick, director of In The Family, herself underwent a mastectomy on May 8 after developing breast cancer and heard about Jolie's story while she was recovering. Even though she was dealing with her own recovery, Joanna wanted to show her support of Jolie and shed more light on what women face when they discover their genetic link to developing cancer. In The Jewish Daily Forward, Joanna stated “She [Jolie] is going to save so many lives. I’m farklempt.” In her film, Joanna noted that the rate for testing positive for the BRCA1 mutation is unusually high among Ashkennazi Jewish women (an estimated 1 in 40 men and women of Ashkenazi descent carry a BRCA mutation).

Joanna also went to the KCRW radio show To The Point where she shared her story of undergoing a double mastectomy and having her ovaries removed (a step Jolie says she will take in the future).

"Part of it is this real rush," said Joanna. "I think that is really one of the dilemmas, it's a race against time and you don't want to give up on all of your dreams. These are incredibly emotional and difficult decisions, I wanted to meet the right person, I wanted to have to have two children, I had two girls."

Joanna also noted that cancer was very "hush hush" when she learned of her mutation 12 years ago and feared the possible repercussions of being open about the possibility of her developing cancer. However, she notes how much society has changed in those 12 years, citing Jolie's story as an example.

"It's a watershed moment for me to see Angelina Jolie, this sex symbol, come out and say 'I had these surgeries, I'm choosing life,'" she said. "I mean we're really...we have just crossed a threshold and I've seen it throughout the process of making this film to where we are now."

Joanna's work as an activist and filmmaker has also inspired other women to take control of their own health. In an op-ed piece for Boston Magazine, Grace Talusan cited In The Family as being the source that pushed her to schedule her own mastectomy. However, Talusan also notes that the cost for genetic testing can pose as an obstacle for many women.

Currently, the BRCA1 and 2 test from Myriad Genetics costs up to $4,000 dollars. According to their website, Myriad Genetics makes the tests cheaper for women with financial needs. In the Family features an interview with Myriad Genetics co-founder Dr.Mark Skolnick, where he defends the legality of their gene patent and also says (in 2007) that it is time they consider reducing the cost of the test.

In The Family will be made available on the PBS website here once again when the Supreme Court rules on the Myriad case. For more information and future updates go to the In The Family Facebook page.

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