Ross, Theodora. A Cancer in the Family: Take Control of Your Genetic Inheritance. Avery. Feb. 2016. 304p. notes. index. ISBN 9781101982839. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9780698197893. HEALTH
Ross (MD, PhD, internal medicine; director, Cancer Genetics Program, Univ. of Texas Southwestern Medical Ctr.) writing as a practitioner, as a scholar, and as one with personal experience of genetic-based cancers, has created an accessible read for a lay audience grappling with personal or familial hereditary cancer diagnoses. Easily translating medical jargon into understandable text, Ross weaves a brief overview of genetic theory, hereditary cancers, and her personal/familial struggles with cancer into a book that is more than the sum of these parts: an intriguing read even for persons not looking for specific cancer-related information. The appendixes and resource sections are a go-to reference for further information on hereditary cancers. With a chart outlining types of hereditary cancer syndromes as well as how one could mitigate the risks of having those cancers, this volume attempts to enable readers to “take control of [their] genetic inheritance,” as stated in its subtitle. VERDICT Recommended for readers seeking appropriate information on hereditary cancers, including their causes, and risk management as well as those beyond the target audience who are interested in sound writing on medical topics.
Williams, Mary Elizabeth. A Series of Catastrophes and Miracles: A True Story of Love, Science, and Cancer. National Geographic. Apr. 2016. 304p. ISBN 9781426216336. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781426216343. memoir
Until a few years ago, a diagnosis of metastatic melanoma was nearly always a death sentence. Researchers have made big advances in a short time, and this memoir shows what those breakthroughs look like from the patient’s point of view. Williams, a writer for salon.com, wife, and mother, chronicles her diagnosis, surgery, metastasis, and successful treatment with two new immunologic therapies, one in an early Phase 1 clinical trial. Snarky, funny, frequently off-color, Williams is a gifted writer who turns the greatest crisis of her life into an engaging story that reads almost like a novel. While the author focuses on the personal rather than medical aspects of her experience, the medical and scientific details she includes are accurate and clear. She shows little patience with unscientific sentimentality, dismissing the “courageous battle” narrative often associated with cancer patients. Instead, she writes, “I didn’t get better because I prayed correctly or because I’m strong. I got better because the science worked on me.” VERDICT This highly recommended account demonstrates the value of cutting-edge cancer research, but it is also beautifully crafted, and many readers will find it entertaining and—though the author might not like this term—inspiring.