Freelance journalist and author Stark (Leaving Mundania: Inside the Transformative World of Live Action Role-Playing Games, 2012) has both fully researched her subject and poured out her heart in this blend of history, science and memoir.
As the family tree in the book’s front shows, cancer, and the threat of cancer, has plagued the author’s family for generations. When she underwent genetic testing and learned that she had inherited her mother’s BRCA1 mutation, which greatly raises the risks of both breast and ovarian cancers, Stark was well-aware of its significance. After coping with the hassles of close monitoring, she made the tough decision to have a preventative double mastectomy while still in her 20s. The story of that decision and all that follows from it is enough to make a book in itself, but the author goes much further. She provides a capsule history of breast surgery, from the pre-anesthesia days through William Halsted’s now-outdated radical mastectomy to today’s less disfiguring procedures, and she profiles geneticist Mary-Claire King, whose work led to the identification of the BRCA genes. In her discussion of the controversial issue of gene patenting, Stark presents all sides of the argument. Most impressive, she tells her personal story with considerable frankness and flashes of humor. The weekend before her breast-removal surgery, she and her husband threw a “goodbye to boobs” party for their closest friends. That lighthearted moment is followed by less sunny ones as Stark was forced to adjust to her new body and face the questions of whether to bear children and possibly pass on the gene mutation and deciding when to have her threatened ovaries removed. The book is a must-read for women questioning whether to be tested for the BRCA mutations and for women considering their options after testing positive.
A gutsy, deeply revealing account that more than fulfills the promise of the subtitle.