Would you cut out your healthy breasts and ovaries if you thought it might save your life? That's not a theoretical question for journalist Lizzie Stark's relatives, who grapple with the horrific legacy of cancer built into the family DNA. It is a BRCA mutation that has robbed most of her female relatives of breasts, ovaries, peace of mind, or life itself. In Pandora's DNA, Stark uses her family's experience to frame a larger story about the so-called breast cancer genes, exploring the morass of legal quandaries, scientific developments, medical breakthroughs, and ethical concerns that surround the BRCA mutations. She tells of the troubling history of prophylactic surgery and the storied origins of the boob job and relates the landmark lawsuit against Myriad Genetics, which held patents on the BRCA genes every human carries in their body until the Supreme Court overturned them in 2013. Although a genetic test for cancer risk may sound like the height of scientific development, the treatment remains crude and barbaric. Through her own experience, Stark shows what it's like to live in a brave new world where gazing into a crystal ball of genetics has many unintended consequences.
Stark (Leaving Mundania) unveils her family's arduous cancer history with her own heartbreaking discovery of and treatment for a gene mutation that put her squarely on her stricken relatives' frightening path. Cancer haunts Stark's maternal lineage; she, her mother, and her aunt share "a certain mutation on our BRCA1 gene." The "feeling that life is guaranteed only until the date of your mother's first cancer diagnosis has infected other relatives as well," she notes, including a great-aunt and two cousins. Their diagnoses, treatments, and outcomes fuel Stark's engrossing exploration of the science of breast cancer, from the discovery of the BRCA1 gene in the mid-'90s to the legal fight over the diagnosis of a BRCA1 mutation. Moreover, Stark's relatives dealt with breast cancer in the 1940s and 1950s when "social norms made it even harder" to talk about the disease. "Though none of us would know cancer, we would know the curse of fear," she writes. For Stark, this also entailed a prophylactic mastectomy in her late 20s and the likely removal of her ovaries in coming years. With her remarkable memoir, Stark gives us medical history and personal testament that intelligently balances hard-edged science with boundless hope.
Customer ReviewsSee All
Definitely, read this for the facts. The author's personal history makes it easier to understand. Kudos to Lizzie and I hope everything goes well.