Friday, August 18, 2017

Freeform's #TheBoldType Boldly Highlights BRCA Storyline

Amy Byer Shainman
The BRCA Responder
My DVR was set for a one time recording of the new Freeform series, The Bold Type.  After all, as an advocate for those with BRCA and other hereditary cancer syndromes I felt a responsibility to watch the "The Breast Issue" episode which I learned via social media was going to include a BRCA storyline. However, if I am brutally honest, I was not expecting much from the show, the young actors, or the writing. More than that, I was definitely not optimistic the show would do justice to the intricacies surrounding hereditary cancer;  the emotions, the science, the importance of a correct cancer risk assessment and genetic test result interpretation.  

Exhausted from my day and not expecting much, I hit "play" on my remote hoping to quickly get through the episode so I could get to my much needed zzz's. Then I heard it. Jolted wide awake and shocked to hear Alex correctly pronounce B-R-C-A correctly (by spelling out the letters) in the Scarlet Magazine office meeting. Alex did go on to say OR "BRCA (BRA-KKA)" which is how most of the world recognizes this gene being pronounced.  

Are you are wondering why both pronunciations? BRCA (BRA-KKA) is the name given to the gene by a certain genetic testing company. B-R-C-A spelled out is what the person who discovered the BRCA gene in 1994, Dr. Mary Claire King, calls the gene. It's how Dr. King intended BRCA to be pronounced. I call myself the spelled out "B-R-C-A Responder" and not the BRCA (BRA-KKA) Responder.

As a BRCA 1 gene mutation carrier and advocate for those with BRCA and other hereditary cancer syndromes, I absolutely applaud The Bold Type for having BRCA and hereditary cancer as part of the character Jane's storyline.  I truly appreciate this focus and the awareness this BRCA storyline will provide. For the BRCA storyline, the writers consulted with @CDC_Cancer (CDC's Division of Cancer Prevention and Control: Promoting effective, science-based strategies to prevent and control cancer).

By consulting with CDC Cancer, the writers got a lot right. The audience sees Jane's see-saw of emotions which is due to both the great writing and yes, impressive acting by actress Katie Stevens who plays Jane.  Another strong point which came across is when the doctor Jane is interviewing says, "Prevention is always better than treatment, always." 

The way #TheBoldType is tackling important issues reminds me back how the original 90210 (and revamped 90210) tackled important issues. It's clear the show is reaching people, touching people, and they love it. Check out their twitter handle or hashtag #TheBoldType to see all the accolades. 

While I am thankful for what the Bold Type writers accomplished, what I wish they would have included in this episode was a consult with the most qualified expert to discuss individual cancer risk and hereditary cancer; a certified genetic counselor. 

Find a certified genetic counselor near you by going to: 

Jane is about to go to interview a doctor about BRCA for her magazine article for Scarlet.  The back story is that Jane's mother died from breast cancer. 

Are you sure that going to see the "BRCA doctor"is a good idea? Sutton asks.  

It's not clear to me as the viewer hearing "BRCA doctor" what type of doctor Jane is actually interviewing.  Was it a breast surgeon? An oncologist? Another type of doctor?

Kat says to Jane, "We were just thinking while you were there maybe you could um. ask the doctor about getting 'the test' ...our insurance covers it now." 

We see Jane in the doctor's office getting a blood test and in a subsequent scene finding out from the doctor that she is positive for a mutation in the BRCA 1 gene.
Certified genetic counseling was what I was missing from this episode. It's important for women AND men to understand the difference between genetic counseling and genetic testing as they often get confused.  Genetic counseling does not mean one has to undergo genetic testing. A certified genetic counselor can explain to an individual what genetic testing for hereditary cancer actually is and what both positive or negative results can and cannot tell you. Genetic counseling does not mean genetic testing has to happen. 

In addition, there are MANY gene mutations beyond BRCA. Researchers have associated mutations in specific genes with more than 50 hereditary cancer syndromes. A certified genetic counselor is the most qualified expert to assess an individual's cancer risk, determine which gene mutation panel or genetic test is appropriate (if any), and interpret genetic testing results. More than this, one's family history alone can increase cancer risk even without a known gene mutation. #TheBoldType had an opportunity to incorporate this vital information into the episode with only a couple well written lines. 

As a patient advocate "in the trenches", I am constantly picking up messy pieces of those who have undergone genetic testing without certified genetic counseling. My hope is that the #TheBoldType includes this crucial awareness piece by having a few scenes where Jane meets with a certified genetic counselor. Perhaps that is coming up in a future episode. I'm hoping Jane (as well as the viewing audience) is clearly informed with a researched and well written script as to her recommended health screenings and cancer risk reduction options. The doctor does say at the end of "The Breast Issue" episode, "There are several options for managing your care and we're gong to find the one that works best for you." I will definitely be watching future episodes for how all of this is handled. 

Discussing BRCA, orgasms, addressing #FreeTheNipple, including #LGBTQ storyline, #TheBoldType is as its title says "Bold" covering the deeper topics. Yet, there are also the sexy, steamy shower sex scenes, great office dynamics and mis-haps, girlfriend chats with nachos (you'll just have to watch), and ultimately laugh out loud one liners like that in last week's end of episode bathtub scene. "I had sex in here like three days ago."  The three young actresses that play Jane, Kat, and Sutton ultimately won me over...they are all very likeable and yes, all have serious acting chops.
At the end of the day, my reason for watching television is to escape. It helps me unwind from a long day. That last bathtub scene transported back to Los Angeles when I was that twenty something young professional and my life was all about dating, work, cocktails, and my girlfriends. The BRCA storyline is what got me to initially watch #TheBoldType but in full transparency--it's the authentic relationships, impressive acting, writing, and laughs that will keep me tuning in to escape on Tuesday nights. 

The Bold Type airs Tuesdays at 9/8c on Freeform.
Also available to watch on hulu - amazon - itunes