Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Summer Reading: Pretty is What Changes

You all need to read Pretty is What Changes by Jessica Queller!

This book is a memoir written by a woman who loses her mother to Breast and Ovarian Cancer and then finds out that she carries the gene that will most likely cause her to contract Cancer as well. The decisions she must make regarding prophylactic mastectomy (which she honestly refers to as "cutting off her boobs" for parts of the book) and the effects of this knowledge on her life and relationships are remarkable and harrowing. It is extremely well written, touching and emotional, as well as very interesting to the medical professional in me.

I had several surprises while reading this, not the least of which is the fact that in 14 years of professional Nursing practice I have never even heard of BRCA-1 until this week, when I read this book. I understand that I work in Critical Care, and genetic mutations may not be on our radar screen all the time, but surely this would have come up sometime. I apparently need to read more and learn a lot more.

I was also surprised, slightly amused, and certainly touched by the apparent willingness of Cancer Survivors to show each other their newly reconstructed breasts. It seemed that pretty often women are taking new friends into fitting rooms and bathrooms and whipping off their blouses so other women can feel how natural they are.

The nagging question that this book left me with, however, was what would the outcome have been had this young woman not been an affluent writer with an affluent family in New York and Los Angeles? Would a farm wife in Nebraska or a suburban part-time secretary whose friends are not well-known celebrities have insurance coverage for genetic testing and prophylactic mastectomies? I really don't know the answer, and I'd like to.

At the end of the book, I felt as if I knew Jessica personally. I cried real tears in certain parts of the book, and smiled outwardly in others. If I could speak to her in person, I'd wish her well and congratulate her for a well-written book and thank her for discussing this issue and making me aware of it.

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