4 out of 4 stars
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In 2013, actress Angelina Jolie's editorial, "My Medical Choice," was featured in the New York Times. Jolie disclosed the shocking news that after testing positive for BRCA1, she opted to have a prophylactic mastectomy. Subsequently, Jolie also had her ovaries removed. "By sharing that she had her ovaries, fallopian tubes, and breasts removed, Angelina Jolie has had an impact on women on so many levels, forcing us to redefine womanhood and beauty." In Resurrection Lily: The BRCA Gene, Hereditary Cancer & Lifesaving Whispers from the Grandmother I Never Knew: A Memoir, Amy Byer Shainman chronicles her journey and educates readers regarding genetic testing, counseling and preventative measures.
This informative book is a must-read for everyone with a history of cancer in their family; those who carry the BRCA gene mutation have an overwhelming 85 percent chance of developing breast cancer. Shainman stresses the importance of being informed and trusting your intuition. After her sister, Jan, had surgery for ovarian cancer and learned about genetic testing, Shainman realized that her grandmother, Lillian, who had died at 33, also had breast cancer. Shainman was referred to a certified genetic counselor and tested positive for the BRCA1 gene. With raw honesty, Shainman articulates coming to terms with her decision to have a prophylactic "preventative" mastectomy. She has since become an advocate for educating those with the BRCA gene and provides firsthand insight and guidance for navigating preventative care. Throughout the book, Shainman reflects on the intuitive guidance she feels from her grandmother despite having never known her.
Although it contains content of a serious nature, there is a lot to like about this well-written book. First, it provides a wealth of information; this can be comforting to readers who are high-risk for certain cancers. Also, Shainman strikes the perfect balance between relating firsthand medical expertise and voicing the emotional rollercoaster involved. Whether she is reflecting on the value of heeding intuition, documenting a surgical consultation, or dealing with anger, Shainman transparently tells it like it is.
One of my favorite aspects of the book is the engaging manner that Shainman creates awareness for the BRCA gene and hereditary cancer. Years before Angelina Jolie's disclosure made headlines, Gilda Radner died of ovarian cancer. In the chapter "Gilda and Norene," Shainman poignantly compares the deaths of the popular comedian and one of her mother's close friends. These vivacious women loved life but died at an early age; she recalls the impact both of their deaths had on her. Shainman also remembers the panic she felt for her sister who experienced similar symptoms to those of Radner. "I knew that there were breast cancer survivors, but I had not heard of an ovarian cancer survivor." The message is powerful and leaves a lasting impression.
Another aspect I enjoyed was Shainman's touching portrayal of her relationship with her sister. Shainman recalls looking up to her older sibling and how safe she felt sleeping in "Sista's" bed. Sisters, in general, share a special bond, but it seems their shared diagnosis has strengthened their relationship all the more. I also appreciated the clever symbolism throughout the book. In addition to the title, sections and chapters are named with references to flowers and gardens. For example, "Part V: Reflection Pond" includes letters and lessons, and "Part IX: Gardeners" is about doctors and counselors.
I didn't note a single error, and I can't I think of one thing I disliked about the book. Therefore, I am pleased to rate it 4 out of 4 stars. I recommend the book to readers who want to learn more about hereditary cancer, genetic counseling, and the BRCA gene.
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