A debut memoir traces how breast cancer affected two generations of one tightknit family, leading to the author undergoing preventive surgery.
Adler is a Davis, California, wellness coach. Her mother and her “twin separated by 16 years,” older sister Lisa, were both diagnosed with breast cancer during a six-month period, forcing Adler to face her own genetic predisposition. The author was enrolled at the University of California at Santa Cruz when her mother had a lumpectomy. Soon Lisa, a 36-year-old mother of two, was diagnosed too; eight years later, she underwent a second mastectomy. Genetic testing had improved by then; it confirmed that Lisa registered positive for the BRCA2 gene mutation. Adler, considered high-risk, started having mammograms at age 26. Meanwhile, their mother was now ill with lung cancer. The author had recently moved back to California from New Jersey with her husband after getting a master’s in public health, and she hosted her mother for her last Thanksgiving before she died in hospice care. This mildly disastrous holiday—complete with a broken garbage disposal and Tofurkey—is a highlight. The siblings lost their father to a heart attack in August 2007. Then, with cancer metastasized to her spine and brain, Lisa died at a hospice center at the end of 2008. Adler’s final promise to Lisa was to go through with the double mastectomy she’d been planning because she learned she also carried BRCA2. “I was choosing this…rather than living in a place of constant concern,” Adler writes. She forthrightly shares her experience of arranging her sister’s funeral, then undergoing a complicated surgery that included MRSA infection and DIEP flap (a type of breast reconstruction) failure. Now she calls herself a cancer “previvor.” This lively memoir is cleverly shaped around breast-related memories, starting with childhood longing—“As a little girl, I dreamed of having boobies”—and moving on to their role in romance and breast-feeding. The chapters are named after slang terms like “Jugs” and “Knockers.” Such touches of humor and whimsy, and Adler’s overall optimism, keep the book from becoming too sad.
No mere litany of loss, this bittersweet story recounts the survival of the human spirit and family love.