At a recent Christmas party, a few friends did a ‘white elephant’ gift exchange, but with books. This was the book I walked away with, and I initially wasn’t sure how to feel about it. A memoir about hereditary cancer didn’t seem like something I’d normally get into over the holidays, but it came with rave reviews and the fact that it was penned by Ami McKay was enough to at least crack the first chapter.
… and then I couldn’t put it down.
McKay tells the story of her family’s journey with Lynch syndrome – a genetic mutation that significantly increase the likelihood of developing cancer and at an early age.
She alternates chapters through three eras – her present-day journey, her past, and the stories of her ancestors. The story of ‘Family G’ has been medically documented back to the 1890s with McKay’s great-great-aunt who noticed the pattern of cancer in her family and confided in a doctor that she expected to die young. This led to Family G becoming the subject of decades of research, medical papers, and being instrumental in the breakthroughs in genetic testing.
There is a moderate amount of medical/genetic jargon, but most of this book tells the story of people wrestling through this diagnosis. She talks about the eugenics movement of years ago that implied her family was of ‘inferior stock’ and should be sterilized, and then contrasts it against the recent remarks of Trump in regards to some groups of people being more worthy of life than others. She relates her own struggle with wondering whether she wants to get tested or not. When she tests positive, she has to consider preventive surgery such as a hysterectomy or removal of her colon. As her children grow, she needs to walk with them through their own testing, and the emotional responsibility she feels for passing the gene along.
This is a super powerful and engaging book, that not only examines life with an almost certain cancer guarantee, but also recounts the stories of a generations of a family that refuses to give up. There is so much hope, so much strength and so much love. I’d imagine that this might be a triggering book to some? If that’s not an issue for you, I highly recommend this!