Thursday, September 2, 2010

Review: What We Have by Amy Boesky

When you look at your parents, can you see where you got your eyes or your chin or your height? Certainly we inherit obvious physical characteristics from our families. I have my mother’s eyes and my father’s dimple. I passed both of those things on to certain of my children. But we inherit so much more than we know. Just imagine wondering if you inherited (and passed along) the potential for ovarian cancer. Author Amy Boesky has spent her entire life wondering this. None of the women in her family tree lived long lives, all felled young by virulent ovarian cancer. Her mother had a prophylactic hysterectomy to halt the grim march of cancer and Boesky herself had always known that she wanted to do the same by the time she was 35, the age doctors recommended the procedure for her. But in the meantime, she lived her life and this memoir details how she went about living to the fullest even while shadowed by this terrible menace. Taking place mainly over the four or so years in which Boesky met and married her husband and gave birth to their two children, this memoir is incredibly affecting. Love, life, and starting a new family were interrupted by sadness, loss, and enduring grief.

In her early thirties, Boesky met and married her husband at the same time she was launching her academic career. The first year of their marriage was a negotiation between very different personalities, including the negotiation of when to have a baby. Boesky felt time ticking away from her thanks to the cancer threat. Her intensive planning and his laissez-faire attitude were at odds. But Boesky knew with certainty the number of black circles, denoting female family members dead of ovarian cancer, dotted about the family tree. And so it was cause for celebration when both she and one of her three sisters fell pregnant at the same time. But the joy of this was shattered when her sister’s baby died in utero, leaving Boesky unable to break through her sister’s grief except through their mother. And when the minefield of unspoken sorrow was finally breached, it was to face an even bigger blow: their strong and loving mother, the tough teacher so beloved by her students, had metastatic breast cancer. How could she have dodged the ovarian cancer bullet only to face a recurrence of breast cancer? And what would this further threat mean to her three daughters and their daughters?

Genetic testing was in its infancy during this time in Boesky’s life and aside from doctor’s charting the linked deaths, there was little to no information as to the nature of the predisposition. There was only the knowledge that it, the cancer, could reach out and get Boesky or her sisters at any point. The sense of urgency, of having a deadline, pervaded Boesky’s life. In fact, she did much academic research on calendars and time and she weaves tidbits about the history of these concepts into her life narrative. This story of the several years so tightly packed with overwhelming joy and crushing sorrow is beautifully rendered. It is emotional and honest, reflective and searching. It is a love letter to the power of family and love and support and a raspberry in the face of the disease that claimed so many of her relatives, both those she never had the chance to meet and those she loved dearly. It is the repository of memories for her daughters, too young to remember themselves. Finally, it is the well-written chronicle of a woman not afraid to triumph over fear and her own sense of living on borrowed time.

For more on Amy Boesky and the book, visit her author website.

For other perspectives on the book, check out the other sites on the blog tour.

And if you'd like to win copies of this book for your bookclub, be certain to check out TLC Book Tours on October 1st when they'll be giving away up to ten copies of the book in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Thanks so much to Lisa at TLC Book Tours for sending me a copy of this book for review.


  1. Sounds like a very gripping memoir.

  2. Sounds like a powerful story. Genetic testing offers so much in the way of information but the decisions you are left with even with that information are still so difficult


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