Book Review: What We Have

I absolutely loved this memoir by Amy Boesky.  What We Have was a heartfelt tale of looking back across generations linked by a silent killer: ovarian cancer. Boesky’s memoir looks at the past, the present and the future in an inter-weaving of generations affected by cancer.

Amy and her sisters look at the framed family photographs on her mother’s wall and remember not vibrant elders from their family, but the stories of each woman who succumbed to cancer. Having a complete hysterectomy around age 35 to 40 is a given in her family; the women grow up feeling pressured to have children quickly so that they can ‘get it over with’ and move on.

Amy finds her soul mate, gives birth to two daughters, and thinks her mother is in the clear after her hysterectomy. But when her mother develops a “tiny” breast tumor, the family begins to wonder again about their cancer risk. The tumor is small and contained, and for four and a half years, her mother thinks she’s in the clear. Then the cancer spreads to her bones and she is given only a short time to live.

The author struggles to reconcile a sense of betrayed – “We did everything right so why is my mother dying?” – fear – “I have two daughters; what about them?” to her own sense of mortality. After her mother’s death, she and her sisters are presented with the potential of having a genetic test to identify their cancer risk.  That’s another struggle.

I loved the narrative, and some passages were so lifelike and realistic, especially around her job interviews, her mother-daughter relationships, and the births of her daughters that I felt like I knew her.  What I struggled with as I read this book wasn’t the book itself but my own sense of how I would handle the challenges that Amy faced. For example,Amy doesn’t want to have the genetic test done to see if she has the high risk cancer gene. I wanted to smack her; why not? She has two little girls. If I were her, I’d race to get the test done to see what my chance, and theirs was, and what could be done to mitigate the risk.

Genes aren’t destiny, and the expression of each individual’s genes is based on so many factors, both known and unknown, that it’s impossible to accurately predict the risk of diseases based on genetics alone.  Still, this book portrays a very real struggle of a family haunted by a specter called ‘cancer.’

If you like memoirs, I recommend this book.  It was engaging, realistic, and heart-warming.  I purchased my copy at the local store but if you click the link above or the picture, you can purchase it inexpensively through my Amazon affiliate.

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