Pandora’s DNA: Tracing the Breast Cancer Genes Through History, Science, and One Family Tree

Lizzie Stark. Chicago Review, $26.95 (336p) ISBN 978-1-61374-860-2
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. Agent: Dystel & Goderich Literary Management. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 08/25/2014
Release date: 10/01/2014
Genre: Nonfiction
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