Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Review: Pretty Is What Changes - Jessica Queller

Pretty Is What Changes: Impossible Choices, The Breast Cancer Gene, and How I Defied My DestinyRelease Date: 4/1/08
Publisher: Random House
Format: Hardback
Number of Pages: 242
Source: Purchased
Challenge100 Books in a Year 

"A timely, affecting memoir from the front lines of medical science:  When genetics can predict how we may die, how then do we decide to live?"

Eleven months after her mother succumbs to cancer, Jessica Queller has herself tested for the BRCA "breast cancer" gene mutation.  The results come back positive, putting her at a terrifyingly elevated risk of developing breast cancer before the age of fifty and ovarian cancer in her lifetime.  Thirty-four, unattached, and yearning for marriage and a family of her own, Queller faces an agonizing choice: a lifetime of vigilant screenings and a commitment to fight the disease when caught, or its radical alternative -- a prophylactic double mastectomy that would effectively restore life to her, even as it would challenge her most closely held beliefs about body image, identity, and sexuality.

Superbly informed and armed with surprising wit and style, Queller takes us on an odyssey from the frontiers of science to the private interiors of a woman's life.  Pretty Is What Changes is an absorbing account of how she reaches her courageous decision and its physical, emotional and philosophical consequences.  It is also an incredibly moving story of what we inherit from our parents and how we fashion it into the stuff of our own lives, of mothers and daughters and sisters, and of the sisterhood that forms when we are united in battle against a common enemy.

Without flinching, Jessica Queller answers a question we may one day face for ourselves: If genes can map our fates and their dark knowledge is offered to us, will we willingly trade innocence for the information that could save our lives?

From Goodreads

First Sentences
"Glorious California light poured through the sunroof as I made the left turn, pulled up to the gate, smiled, and flashed my badge.  Joe the security guard winked and bellowed 'Morning Jess'.  The gate rose, and off I drove, the whole of the Warner Bros. lot spread before me.  This routine never failed to give me a thrill."

My Thoughts
This was an extremely moving and inspirational memoir, and I haven't stopped talking about it since I finished reading it.  I'm sure we've all thought about it at one point or another -- if you could know when and how you were going to die, would you want to know?  There is a part of me that says that I would like to have this knowledge, while the other side just keeps telling me that the old saying is true...ignorance is bliss.  I know that I only have one life to live, and I want to live it to the fullest.  That is how I've always felt, and while I know that it is inevitable that I will die, I don't think that the knowledge of the hows and whens would really help me at all.  I think I would wake up everyday in fear knowing that I only had x number of days left and that's just no way to live.  However, that being said, reading this book has really got me thinking.  While Jessica did not find out that she was going to die on a specific day in a specific way, she did find out that she carried a genetic mutation that had a high risk of breast and ovarian cancer.  She watched her mother suffer through a long battle with cancer, and she didn't want to have to go through that herself.  I can understand from her experiences that she would want to know so that she can prevent the same fate for herself, but I also  don't know that it is the choice I would want to make.  I think that Jessica is a brave and courageous woman, and I applaud her for all of it.  
In a way though, I look at it in the sense that because Jessica was able to find out about the mutation, she was able to prevent herself from developing breast cancer (well not prevent, but greatly lessen the chances).  I know that it is very likely that each and every one of us has been impacted by someone with cancer.  I know that it is no easy feat going through the ups and downs of the disease, and I would never wish that upon anyone.  I can see how it is beneficial to find out and be able to prevent the pain and suffering.  As you can tell, I'm completely torn.  I was adopted and only know my biological father's side of my medical history.  I've often wondered what kind of medical history my biological mother's side has, and I guess it is a good thing to know that there are all types of genetic tests available to me.
Would you want to know?

Favorite Quotes
"Pretty isn't beautiful, Mother,
Pretty is what changes.
What the eye arranges
Is what is beautiful."
- Stephen Sondheim

"The central questions the article posed -- was knowledge power or ignorance bliss?  Biotechnology now offered us the ability to know what diseases were in store for us, but was this helpful information?"

Likes: I really liked that while this was a memoir, I was still able to learn a great deal about BRCA testing, while reading an incredible story at the same time.
Dislikes:  I still can't decide what I would do. 
Cover: 5/5 
Characters: 5/5
Writing Style: 5/5
Plot: 5/5
Ending: 5/5
Overall Rating: 5/5

Happy Reading! 

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