Growing up, there was a shadow member of Caitlin Brodnick's family: Cancer.
Just months after her 33-year-old paternal aunt died of breast cancer, Brodnick's father went on to lose his entire immediate family to the disease.
"Everybody I loved kept dying of cancer," said the 33-year-old cancer prevention activist.
Eventually, her father discovered that he carries the BRCA1 gene mutation that increases one's risk of developing breast cancer. BRCA mutations disproportionately affect Ashkenazi Jews.
"In a way, that discovery was a relief because it gave a cause to all of this cancer. It was genetic based," said Brodnick.
At age 25, she also got tested. The results confirmed her worst fears: Brodnick carries the mutation, which told her she had an 87 percent chance of developing breast cancer in her lifetime.
She then made a very hard decision. At age 28, she chose to have a preventative double mastectomy -- joining the ranks of other "previvors" like Angelina Jolie, also a BRCA carrier, who went public with her decision.
Through her distinctive blend of humor and honesty, Brodnick proceeded to share her story with the world through a Glamour magazine documentary series, Screw You Cancer, and her book, Dangerous Boobies: Breaking Up with My Time-Bomb Breasts.
Now this comedian and author will share her BRCA journey at Jean Therapy, an annual awareness event presented by the Norton & Elaine Sarnoff Center for Jewish Genetics, a support foundation of JUF. Jean Therapy will take place on Thursday, Oct. 18, at the Kimpton Hotel Palomar Chicago.
"We are delighted to feature Caitlin Brodnick this year, who will share her BRCA story as a message of health empowerment, and her perspective as a comedian," said Sarah Goldberg, assistant director of Norton & Elaine Sarnoff Center for Jewish Genetics.
The annual event, which initially was held in the denim department at Nordstrom (thus the name) has evolved over the years and while a shopping component is still included, it has become an entertaining and educational way to delve deeper into Jewish genetic disorders, according to Jason Rothstein, director of Norton & Elaine Sarnoff Center for Jewish Genetics.
This year, the choice was made to present a sobering and often frightening topic through a humorous lens, and as former editor-in-chief of Glamour Cindi Leive said, "It takes a special kind of person to turn a double mastectomy into comedy, and Caitlin Brodnick is just that kind of person…"
For Brodnick, having a mastectomy isn't funny, but the human experience is.
"Even within something very scary and terrible, you can find comedy in the human experience. I don't think breast cancer is fun, but I am able to laugh about mishaps and funny moments along the way," said Brodnick who lives in New York with her husband and baby son.
One important message Brodnick wants to convey is the importance of doing genetic testing with a genetic counselor. "When you are ready for this information, it is a lot to absorb and you need to find the most warm and supportive place to get it," she said.
The Sarnoff Center offers a host of resources including a carrier screening program and personal guidance. "People can call us up and talk to any of us at the Sarnoff Center. We can connect them with our genetic counselor who can help with answers or direct them to an appropriate clinical appointment," said Rothstein.
As for Brodnick, her goal is to share her story -- not to tell others what to do.
"I want to be a voice out there for people who might be considering it," she said. "When I went through this I felt so alone and in the dark and scared. If I can help even one mother explain this better to her daughter, than that is my goal."
To register for Jean Therapy, visit www.juf.org/JeanTherapy.