My father, my sister, my aunt, two of my friends, my best friend’s father, and two of my co-workers. These are the people close to me that have been diagnosed with cancer. If I think of family friends and acquaintances, the number grows exponentially. For several of them, including my father and aunt, the cancer proved deadly. Because my father died from melanoma, I am at a higher risk for skin cancer. I thought I was doing enough with my annual checks, but when my sister was diagnosed with a different type of cancer not too long ago, not only did I panic a bit, I also started to wonder whether the two might somehow be related. I was in the middle of my unscientific online research when I was offered a copy of A Cancer in the Family*.
The author, Dr. Theodora Ross, is an oncologist and geneticist with a family history of cancer. She specializes in treating breast cancer and directs a research lab focusing on how cancer genes turn normal cells into cancer cells. When she herself was diagnosed with melanoma, further testing showed that she had the BRCA 1 genetic mutation, which had already led to a high number of cancer occurrences in her family. Her diagnosis put her into the unique situation to be able to look at cancer from two sides: as a doctor and as a patient.
Similar to The Emperor of All Maladies, this book is able to present information in an easy-to-understand way. It is a good mix of scientific explanation and personal experience. Dr. Ross’ book could have easily read like a text book, but it was nothing like that. It was very personal, at times uplifting, and in many ways enlightening. I thought it would simply be scary to find out that you are definitely predisposed to breast cancer, for example. I had never considered that it could be a relief as well to know whether you are likely to get cancer. It’s true, though, that without knowing, you can’t take preventative action.
Although Dr. Ross is clearly an authority, I appreciated that she left room for readers to make their own choices. She never claims that her decision-making process is the way to go for everyone. Though clearly an advocate for genetic testing, she encourages readers to become informed and figure out what is best for them. A Cancer in the Family is definitely a good resource for doing just that.
This book was the push I needed to take some action. I have made an appointment to find out if I should get genetic testing. In the end, finding out whether I’m at a high risk not just for skin cancer but for other types of cancer as well is not only for me. If I have a genetic mutation, then my children might have it as well. And I owe it to them to know for sure.
*I received a review copy from Penguin Group Avery.