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Breaking Up with My Time-Bomb Breasts
Foreword by Rachel Bloom
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Dangerous Boobies: Breaking Up with My Time-Bomb Breasts goes in depth into her experience from testing to surgery and on to recovery. With a warm, funny, and approachable voice, Caitlin tells readers the full story, even sharing what it was like to go from a size 32G bra — giant, for a woman who is barely over five feet tall! — to a 32C. Engaging and open, she admits to having hated her breasts long before her surgery, and enjoying the process of “designing” her new breasts, from the shape of the breasts to the size and color of the nipples.
While Caitlin’s primary narrative explores the BRCA gene and breast cancer, her story is also one about body acceptance and what it takes to be confident with and in charge of one’s body. Her speaking engagements and comedy routines have shown that the wider topic of breasts, breast size, and personal identity is resonating with younger readers.
FOREWORD BY RACHEL BLOOM
Every woman I have ever known has a complicated relationship with her boobs. I wouldn't call it a love/hate relationship; it's more of a hmm/ugh/what?/yeah baby!/eh relationship.
The women I know with smaller boobs are insecure about their size but are also grateful that modern fashion is made for their body type. The women I know with larger boobs are insecure about their size but are also grateful that vintage fashion is made for their body type. Women with boobs of all sizes deal with hormone-related pain, unwanted attention from men on the street, cleavage sweat pimples, breast-milk leakage, and more. Trans women deal with these problems plus the fact that many won't develop naturally fully developed breasts; trans men must shed their boobs to realize their gender identities. Even cis-gender men worry about having "man boobs" or, in rare cases, male breast cancer (yes, it happens).
Though I sometimes long for the kindergarten days when I could run around shirtless on a hot day, I am, for the most part, grateful for my boobs. Even as five-year-old me ran topless through a sprinkler, I daydreamed about someday having massive boobs. When I drew pictures of myself as an adult, I would draw a big cleavage line. Alone in my room at night, I would stuff some stress balls down my nightgown and coo, "Hello, boyyyyyyyyyyys."
Now that the universe* bestowed upon me the boobs of my dreams (*universe = Ashkenazi genes), they have become a big part of my identity. My breast development coincided with my popularity skyrocketing; whether they gave me more confidence or happened to appear when I became more confident is a mystery I never intend to solve. Having been boy crazy from a young age, I was delighted when the boys I pined for finally started to notice me, with my boobs drawing their eyes to my more important but subtler features, such as my smile and personality.
As I got older and gained weight/went on birth control, my boobs grew from a modest B to a "Why do I look skanky even in a T-shirt?" DD. Sometimes, they're big in a cartoonish way that doesn't feel like they're a part of my body. So, when I became a comedian, I had a choice: be objectified against my will or take charge of my image and show them off with an ironic brazenness. Think Jessica Rabbit sitting on the toilet during a shit attack. It's a mix of pride and apology, as if to say, "I know I look like this, but DON'T JERK OFF TO ME."
So, despite my own hmm/ugh/what?/yeah baby!/eh relationship with my breasts, I rarely think about the fact that, as Caitlin says, they could kill me. I got tested for the BRCA gene in the post-Jolie wave and was relieved to find that I was in the clear. But I realize how lucky I am, as this is not the case for an overwhelming number of women, especially those of Ashkenazi Jewish descent.
Every woman's experience with her boobs is specific and personal. As you read Caitlin's book, I hope that you reevaluate and appreciate your relationship with not just your boobs, but your body as a whole.
—Rachel and her boobs
I had amazing twenty-eight-year-old breasts. They were huge, soft, and beautiful—I measured 32G, a fan favorite. But I hated them. I tested positive for the BRCA1 genetic mutation, specifically the 538insC BRCA1, which my doctors said gave me an 82 percent chance of getting breast cancer in my lifetime.1 That statistic made me go 100 percent insane. It didn't help that I was born exactly nine months after my aunt Iris died of breast cancer at thirty-three years old. I was lovingly and terrifyingly welcomed into the world as her reincarnation. Growing up in my family, breast cancer was always the huge pink ribbon in the room.
I conquered these fears with the decision to have a preventative double mastectomy and share it with as many women as possible. I'm a comedian and a performer, and I can't be trusted with secrets, especially my own.
Sadly, I couldn't live-tweet the surgery. Fortunately, Glamour produced a docuseries that followed me through the very beginning of the process: Screw You Cancer. To date, it has more than 7 million views, was the first digital series to win a Television Academy Honor (Emmy Award), and won the National Magazine Award for Best Video. All I cared about at the time was trying to make my plastic surgeon laugh. There I was at twenty-eight, honestly sharing my experience with breast cancer prevention, BRCA, and a preventative mastectomy: a new spokeswoman with newer boobs. Most women who have mastectomies have had cancer or are typically older. I had a double mastectomy at twenty-eight without a cancer diagnosis. I call it the Angelina Jolie Surgery. It's like we are twins, or sisters, or best friends, but one of us is avoiding Brad Pitt and the other is avoiding her credit-card debt. After Jolie's New York Times op-ed piece in 2013, one study showed the number of women referred to genetic counseling increased by 85 percent. Additionally, the number of BRCA1/2 carriers identified increased by 107 percent after she went public.2 Angelina opened the door to this world, but I am able to give you the grand tour. Until now, readers have been left to decode research journals or Google until three in the morning. I needed a place that wasn't just scientific and depressing. Oh hai! That's me! And this book will do just that.
Screw You Cancer covered the first half of my journey, and Dangerous Boobies is here to provide all the gritty details. Join me as I go from getting tested for BRCA to looking in the mirror at my mastectomy scars. You will travel with me as I confess and cry through my feelings to every woman in a Sephora. How do you talk to your family members about this? What about your significant other? How do you pick new nipples? How do your notions of femininity evolve or remain unchanged? How do you have sex after lying in bed for two weeks?
My story covers all of that—the funny, the gross, and the difficult in-betweens—from a girl who has already made you a friendship bracelet.
But enough about me (for now). Let's talk about you! Because we're in this together!
If you are at risk for the BRCA gene and are thinking of getting tested: Take your time and think some more. Assuming you don't have cancer, there is nothing to treat immediately. See a genetic counselor and find out the facts. Take it easy and be patient with yourself, and do only what you're ready for. It's your life, your decision—so lose the judgment that you're carrying around, and do what's best for you.
If you are positive for the BRCA gene mutation and are thinking of getting the surgery: First of all, don't be afraid. It will all be okay. I know if someone had said that to me, I wouldn't have believed them, and I would have thrown this book down and eaten my feelings. (Do order the French fries. They are delicious.) I understand completely if you are not ready for all of this yet. You can always pick it back up later when you are ready. Even reading this far was more than I could do when I was first diagnosed, so great job!
If you are reading this book to help a friend: Wow! You are so nice! What a good person you are! Thank you. Know that your support will help in more ways than you can imagine. Your being there is a big deal, and it is the reason we get dressed and out of bed, laugh again, and feel like a normal person during the process. And thank you in advance for the gossip magazines and ice cream, which are essential.
If you have had cancer or have it now and would like to read about my experience: I admire you so much. What I did will never be as difficult, and I am a wimp compared to you. I am terrified of cancer. I hope there is something in this book that you connect with and find comfort and humor in. Or you can use this book as a coaster for your morning green smoothie.
If you just want to see pictures of boobies: Whoa! I can't believe you read this far! That should be your quota for the week, right?! Is your Wi-Fi down? Did you already read every copy of Playboy cover to cover? I'm impressed you grabbed your older sister's copy of my book to quench your thirst! Go here, you overachiever, you.
Whatever your reason for picking up Dangerous Boobies, you are not alone. That is the most important thing. Even if you want to be alone, which is understandable, you aren't far from someone who has gone through the same experience and has had the same difficult conversations with her family and friends. Yes, it is terrifying, but it doesn't have to be lonely. I did it alone for a while and had nothing to show for it but an unhealthy WebMD addiction. (I still have that, but let's deal with one issue at a time.)
If you are looking for this book to give you permission to have a double mastectomy—you have it! You have permission to do whatever the hell you want—it is your body. This is my experience, but you get to choose for yourself what you want for your beautiful body and your magnificent future.
I don't know exactly how to say "Let's hug" in book form. If we were next to each other right now, that tight, squeezing feeling that smells like Gucci 2 perfume would be me wrapping my arms around you. Instead, I'll just say, "Let's be friends." I'm not good at budgets, miniature golf, or handstands, but I am a great friend. And it's about to get personal. Like way, way personal. The kind of personal that's reserved for gooooood friends. As your friend, not only will I tell you everything you could ever want to know about the breast cancer gene and choosing new boobs, but I will also hold your hair back when you are sick, hate your exes without meeting them, and never speak of that one night in Greece. It will be great. Also, you should wear more blue. You look really good in blue.
HOOKER WITH A HEART
The photographer shook her head. "Yeah, there's lots of boob in that one too."
My entire life was filled with lots of boob. I angled my arms. I pulled my ribs back and my hips forward, as if Tyra were screaming at me from the sidelines of America's Next Top Model. I attempted to stick out my elbow and elongate my neck. I looked like a Cirque du Soleil du Reject; nothing worked.
The reality was that my boobs were taking over my life. This wasn't new; these tits loved to upstage me. Teen boys would yell at me from the street, weird men would follow me for a few blocks, and women would stare at me in shock. "How does someone so short have such huge boobs?!" I was always being asked the smartest questions.
To compensate, I wore scarves and layers to conceal my chest. It worked—I was (almost) able to stylishly drown my breasts and sexuality while simultaneously looking a little pregnant or homeless, or both.
Did my boobs hurt my back? Yep! Did they ruin every outfit I ever tried on? You betcha! Did they make me oversexualized at every event? Duh! These big little shits have been outshining me since eighth grade. From Chanukah parties to N'Sync concerts, the terrible twins just wouldn't quit.
And now they were taking over my photo session. I was supposed to be getting head shots taken for my acting portfolio, something that usually made me feel great. Hair and makeup and attention and more attention—sign me up! But this wasn't one of those '80s-montage makeover moments. We were in crisis mode. How do we hide these boobies? After three shirt changes and two bra changes, the photographer suggested, "Let's try a blazer?"
Just to clarify: A blazer is the kiss of death; wrap it up—game over. Nothing we tried could take attention away from my big boobies, so we were forced to cover and bury. My breasts successfully hijacked this photo session. All I needed was a microphone and a brick wall, and I was a middle-aged woman doing standup in the '90s. (To be fair, that is kinda a dream role.)
But the acting roles I was looking to be cast in didn't include my canyon of cleavage. I wanted to book a commercial for things like the Infinity Combo: Mop & Blender, and instead I looked like I would be cast as "Hooker #2 (with a Heart)" or "Ex-Wife Who's RLY into Margaritas."
Let's get real honest, real fast: I had size 32G boobs. I know—so big! G—as in GEE-THOSE-ARE-BIG G. Get-off-my-body G. Good-luck-hiding-those G. Why-would-God-punish-thee G! They were massive. Too big, Linebacker-Who-Likes-to-Bake Big. Boys loved them, girls wanted them, and friends couldn't believe I hid them so well. "Caitlin, there is NO way they are Gs!" I hated my boobs with all my heart. I made it my personal mission to keep them secured and camouflaged like the deadly weapons they were.
While we are being honest: They might one day have killed me. I tested positive for the BRCA genetic mutation, giving me a staggeringly high risk of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer. #Blessed. This is a heredity-based mutation and in my case passed down from my father's Ashkenazi Jewish genes. I grew up in a Jewish-Catholic home, split fifty-fifty, and my top half was fully kosher. My father is the only living relative in his immediate family, and growing up I watched my favorite people lose battles with cancer. As a child, cancer was the monster under my bed. I would worry cancer would come for my sister or little brother. As I grew, I quickly became an expert at blocking out all feelings toward cancer. I just stuffed it down like a good little Catholic.
Massive deadly breasts that must be concealed? Someone make this movie. I would be happy to be cast in any production of anything actually, but I wanted to make the choice of what parts I could be in and not have my boobs make that decision for me. #RESIST. I also found myself apologizing the entire time during the photo shoot. I had lower self-esteem than that sad girl at the library you avoid making eye contact with. I was sorry it was such a concern, I was sorry that I was so unhappy with how I looked, and I was sorry my breasts were my biggest problem. I didn't want my miserable experience to rub off on the photographer. I was used to this struggle, but the photographer shouldn't have it wreck her day, too.
And then I was angry. This ruined my entire experience. Yes, I have body issues—I am a female actress, aren't I? Pile on my boob issues, and we were at an all-time high. And yes, I knew I needed more therapy, but whatever I did, the boobs were taking over my body and claiming it as their throne. I had no control over them. I know it's grating to be reading this if you are a woman with smaller breasts who wished you had bigger ones. It's like my friend Colin, who won't shut up about his huge hands—we get it. But living this way wasn't half as much fun as Colin's adventures.
My husband used to hold up my boobs when we would shower together to give my back a break. Girls with big twins, try it—it's amazing. It you don't have a shower buddy, use a shelf or counter. Just place the big twins on for a second, take a deep breath, and let your back relax. It's just the BEST. (But if you literally have twins who are children, don't leave them on a shelf or counter alone.)
My breasts would dictate what I could wear, how much I had to cover up, how I held my body, and how people would treat me. "Eyes up here, buddy. We're at a funeral. It's embarrassing." I would wear a compression bra and a tank top to help with cleavage spillage. Then I would top it all off with a V-neck T-shirt to avoid a uniboob. I couldn't control how people responded to my breasts, but I was going to do whatever I could to keep them on lock. Oh and I would wear a skirt or pants, whatever was clean, but even that didn't matter.
In college I considered getting breast-reduction surgery, but it all felt too intense. I was more comfortable hating my body. I was used to fourteen-year-old boys yelling "Big titties!" as they ran away giggling.
But that afternoon I was fed up. I wanted more control over everything: the photo session, my body, and my boobs. It didn't feel at all like I was representing myself. It felt like we were working with a disguise. I didn't want to play the parts my breasts could cast me in. And a head shot typically doesn't show your whole body. The eight-by-ten-inch photo cuts you right under your chest, right at your waist. For me, that would be 50 percent cleavage guaranteed.
Now, head shots are just a colorful requirement e-mailed to directors digitally (for some reason, everyone has very blue eyes). I miss the days when diners were filled with glossy black-and-white head shots of movie stars, actors, and the owner's cousin.
I have wanted to be a professional actress since I was three years old and was cast in a local Magnum PI commercial. The lights, the makeup, the free snacks—all of it delighted me, and I decided it would be my life. Then, in fifth grade, I was given one line as a Munchkin in The Wizard of Oz, and I understood this was my calling.
So I earned a bachelor of fine arts in acting and moved to New York. I even had some early success! I made a tiny cameo as Drunk Girl in Pirate Costume in the critically acclaimed blockbuster Step Up 3D. It required no hip-hop dancing.
Now I needed head shots—and I wanted photos that would increase my chances of being cast as anyone besides "Russian Hamster Smuggler."
I had brought my favorite JLo album (On the 6) because I wanted to feel beautiful and weightless—"Feelin' So Good"! But my boobs brought me right back down to earth. I was distracted and demoralized, and I needed deodorant. The photo session ended: Boobs 2, Brodnick 0.
I rolled my suitcase away from the hip Meatpacking District studio over the romantically charming but heel-tripping cobblestone streets, feeling defeated. My hopes had been drowned by a blazer. I started to doubt my whole acting career. "Maybe this is all I can offer? Maybe I will just have to be cast as the Sexy Dog Walker or Pregnant Aesthetician?" I treated myself to a cab, sat back on the smelly pleather seats, and tried not to cry.
I wanted to escape my body. I wanted to propel my life into the future. I felt this way in middle school and college: The next step was always going to be better. Then I will feel happier. Then I will be confident.
As I was crossing the Fifty-Ninth Street Bridge, I thought, "I cannot wait until I am sixty and I can get a mastectomy so I'm finally free of these horrible things." That was my first sobering thought.
My second one was, "Isn't life supposed to be amazing at twenty-eight? Aren't I in my prime? Or at least a type of prime?" And then I had an epiphany, or we hit a pothole, or I threw up in my mouth. I wanted to get the surgery—and I wanted to get it now.
It felt completely wild to give myself permission to jump into this extreme decision. I knew it was emotional—but let's be honest, every decision I make is emotional, and that isn't going to change anytime soon. It felt right, and for once I wasn't as scared.
Not only were my breasts subjecting me to blazers and hooker roles, but also… they might actually END me.
My childhood was like every other kid's life in my Maryland neighborhood—I loved Inspector Gadget, swimming at the YMCA, and recess. Totally normal. Except for one little thing: Everyone. Kept. Dying.
One by one, my family members died of cancer. An aunt, another aunt, a grandparent or two or three… So, we talked a lot about death growing up. Didn't you? No? I was obsessed with death. When I would blow out my birthday candles and make a wish, I would wish for Andy to like me and for us be locked in a mall overnight and that my little sister wouldn't die. (I made my wishes in that order. I just really wanted to get locked in a mall with Andy.)
I didn't think this was unusual. I mean, Jewish people talk about death a lot. A lot. All of our holidays are focused on remembering the people who have died and how to avoid future deaths. No reincarnation or resurrection stories for us, just some good, simple death, to be celebrated every chance we get.
And on the days between holidays, we talk about the Holocaust. I knew every detail about how my uncle Charley's parents survived the Holocaust. When I was six years old, I explained to my cousin how "Charley's childhood was responsible for his detachment from the rest of our family." I filled her in while we were playing on our new swing set.
I was fascinated with death as a child, not cool Wednesday Addams or The Craft death obsessed, but like scared shitless, so I watched really cool shows like Barney and Friends and Sesame Street with my brother, who was ten years younger, because no one else ever died. (Except Mr. Hooper. But I blocked it out! I can't handle that type of instability!) I was always sitting with my aging grandparents wondering, "Is this the end?"
My father had two older sisters, Iris and Valia. In 1982 they were both living in California, looking for rich husbands, when Iris found a lump in her breast. Her mother, my Bubby, had just five years before battled breast cancer and had a radical mastectomy,* removing one of her breasts. Iris was twenty-eight years old and afraid, so she ignored it. You know what happened next. It grew as she kept going about her life. She had a lot going on. It was the '80s, and she had a solid group of friends, including Mike the Psychic, who, in retrospect, either wasn't very good or DEFINITELY should have spoken up. Iris had a life to live, and this bump in her breast wasn't going to stop her. It had grown to a dark round mass the size of a golf ball by the time she finally went to the doctor.
By then, like all tragic stories, it was too late. She immediately began aggressive treatment, with support from doctors and family, and tried her best to fight. As Iris received chemotherapy, everyone hoped for a successful recovery. Instead, she died abruptly from a blood clot due to treatment. She died in her mother's arms. She was just thirty-three.
The little Jewish family from Baltimore was wrecked. Sadness, pain, and anger were jumbled together in a grief cocktail they didn't know if they could survive. There were so many unfinished plans. My parents had been married for only a year. My grandparents had so many more meals to prepare for a full table. There were jokes that were never told and memories they were counting on having. She left everyone a little more alone.
And then—I was born! I came into the world oblivious: Oh, hhiiiiiiii!!! Were you guys crying? Sorry, I didn't notice. I pooped in my diaper while eating brownie batter—you have to figure out which is which!
As a small child, I understood that my family was sometimes sad, and I knew who Iris was, but I didn't have much patience for heavy hearts. I wanted to act out my favorite songs in Grease! I needed to practice aboveground synchronized swimming! I had imaginary farms to build, and puppets to talk to, and dresses to design out of napkins, and dirt to taste! I had to wear all of my Bubby's jewelry at the same time and eat SpaghettiOs before my dinner! I know you are very upset and we might be lighting a candle to honor the dead, but right now I need someone to watch my jazz performance to Patti LaBelle's greatest hits! We are all very busy.
There were dance recitals and Rosh Hashanah dinners where relatives would say, "Iris would have loved this matzo ball soup" or "Iris got Poppy so angry because she wouldn't stop giggling during the prayers." My sister and I did our best to giggle and create adequate disturbance to carry on her legacy. It was a very important job, and we were too hyped up on gefilte fish not to.
We were told the same stories over and over again. We knew them by heart. "Iris was everyone's favorite teacher at her school, she was writing a book, and she saved Valia's life when she was in a deep depression." No one ever fully recovered. Bubby kept everything of Iris's from ballet shoes to lip liner. She would have moaned, "Mom this is all wasted space," like we all say to our mothers who wish we grew up a little slower.
I was always told that I looked the most like Iris, which creeped me out. Guys—she was dead. I didn't want to look like a memory. There were many pictures of her, some when she was sick in a hospital bed, some when she looked very chubby and uncomfortable. I wanted to look like Kelly Kapowski from Saved by the Bell, but everyone made sure to tell me how much I looked like Iris, the shaineh maidel. They needed to. It made them feel like she was still there with them. But I needed to be reassured I would date Zach Morris and ride in a pink convertible in high school.
- "Caitlin Brodnick is fabulous. She's a survivor . . . She's a funny, smart writer and she'll teach you, make you laugh, and maybe make you cry. For a minute. And then you'll feel better. And then you'll laugh again. Look, I'm just saying: the woman takes you on a journey. Get into it.
--Emme, model, fashion icon, public speaker, and author of Chicken Soup for the Soul: Curvy & Confident
—The Washington Post
- On Sale
- Sep 12, 2017
- Page Count
- 256 pages
- Seal Press