By Sarah Goldberg
[Warning: Spoilers ahead for those not up-to-date with Jane the Virgin season 4]
In honor of Mother’s Day, I’m taking a moment to celebrate my favorite mother-daughter duo on TV: Jane and Xiomara of the Jane the Virgin (don’t worry, I also plan to celebrate the women in my own life!). A satirical take an overly dramatic telenovela, the CW’s hit show follows the life of a young woman who is accidentally artificially inseminated. Jane relies on her close-knit family – namely her mom, Xiomara, and her abuela – to advise her on childrearing, relationships, school and work while she simultaneously deals with kidnappers, murderers, blackmailers and other villains that soap opera dreams are made of. Though the show is perhaps best known for not taking itself too seriously, the most recent season tackled Xiomara’s breast cancer diagnosis – and the relationships between the family members – in a raw, relatable way that deserves acknowledgement. A few takeaways from the storyline:
People handle information differently and the “right” choice isn’t the same for everyone
Xiomara, or Xo for short, understandably feels overwhelmed when she receives a diagnosis of stage three invasive lobular carcinoma. Her eyes glaze over as her doctor discusses treatment options, which include a lumpectomy, single mastectomy or preventative double mastectomy. She panics as she learns about drains and spacers and reconstruction options. Meanwhile, Jane takes copious notes, asks questions of the doctors, and does her research. She feels strongly that Xo should have a double mastectomy. Although the cancer is only in one breast, a double mastectomy would reduce the chance of recurrence and Jane makes her opinion known.
A genetic counselor or other medical professional can provide much-needed guidance
Xo initially appeases Janes and agrees to have a double mastectomy (over dinner, as she asks her family to pass the chicken breasts, no less). Internally, Xiomara agonizes over the choices. How can she elect to remove healthy tissue from her unaffected breast, she wonders? Unfortunately, Xo doesn’t have a supportive doctor and there’s no genetic counselor, therapist or medical professional to provide guidance and help her make an informed decision.
Cancer is a family affair
As the family impatiently waits for Xo to choose a surgical approach, anxiety grows and tempers flare. A mother-daughter day at the spa ends with an outburst from Xiomara: “You and I have different relationships to our bodies, Jane, and I don’t know if I want to have elective surgery for your peace of mind.”
Cancer forces family members to re-examine their relationships. Jane, who has always operated as the caretaker, recognizes that ultimately the decision is not hers to make, and she needs to support her mom in the days ahead. Xiomara, who has always turned to Jane first, realizes there are some things better left to discuss with her new husband. (Rogelio, her high school sweetheart with whom she recently reunited and the father of Jane, though perhaps better known as a telenovela celebrity and for his outlandish Tweets.) The breast cancer is not hereditary, yet it affects the whole family.
Physical changes have emotional impact
Xiomara ultimately opts for a single mastectomy, a decision she comes to after weighing options carefully. Xo understands that a mastectomy will change her appearance, her body image that has long been a source of confidence, and her sexual function. She turns to her husband to discuss how this will impact their life together. Together they decide on a course of action and Xo undergoes surgery – but not without a “bye bye boob” party for them to pay tribute to Xo’s changing body.
The season ended with Xiomara navigating physical and emotional changes that followed her surgery and, of course, a dramatic cliffhanger. There’s a lot left to Xiomara’s story when Season 5 begins and I, for one, cannot wait to watch.
This Mother’s Day, honor the women in your life by sharing your own family stories and health information. While talking about breast cancer or other conditions that may affect the family isn’t easy, doing so can help you protect your health, your mom’s health, and the health of the family. The Norton & Elaine Sarnoff Center for Jewish Genetics offers tools to help you get started, and a genetic counselor is also available to help community members identify additional resources as needed.