“Daughter of Family G” by Ami McKay

This evening (at 11:35 p.m.), I finished reading Ami McKay’s book, Daughter of Family G: A Memoir of Cancer Genes, Love and Fate. It was quite an absorbing and engaging read.

Weaving together generations and alternating time periods from chapter to chapter, McKay explores her family’s genetic predisposition to hereditary cancer and confronts the implications for her own life and family. 

Her family’s medical history has been traced since 1895 and the longstanding study of her family’s genetics led to a pathologist dubbing the pedigree ‘Family G.’ 

McKay’s book is a courageous and generous memoir through which she thoughtfully presents the drama and dilemmas of knowing that you have a genetic predisposition to a particular cancer. 

One of the most interesting and unsettling aspects of this book is the history (and unfortunately, contemporary) connections McKay reviews between cancer genetics and eugenics. 

And so she muses, “Science has given the human race the ability to decipher our DNA, but can we be trusted to take proper care of it?” 

The book is a narrative that really demands and deserves further reflection and discussion on such topics as: the experience of ‘previvors’, the phenomenon of “genetic guilt”, and ethics in genetic counselling. 

Another aspect of the book that I found striking was how, in the midst of preparing for genetic testing, the September 11th terrorist attacks happened. As McKay processed the news of the attacks with her family, she recalls: “My fears about the test seem trivial. All I can think is, no amount of fear can ever make us safe.” 

While persons with a strong family history of hereditary cancer would usually affirm that “knowledge is power”, McKay’s story also warns about the worry that accompany this knowledge: “Worry can be pernicious. Left unchecked, it slowly bleeds the soul of joy and replaces it with fear.” 

I think McKay has found the golden mean between confidence and fear, though, when it comes to her genetic destiny and that the golden mean is story because, as Isak Dinesen said, “All sorrows can be borne if you can tell a story about it.” 

The story McKay has told is a good one, and will be a gift for future generations both within and outside of her family. 

Published by Amanda Achtman

What matters to me is living in truth, taking responsibility, creating value & cultivating community.

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