Books·Canadian

Daughter of Family G

Daughter of Family G is a nonfiction book by Ami McKay.

Ami McKay

The story of Ami McKay's connection to a genetic disorder called Lynch syndrome begins over 70 years before she was born and long before scientists discovered DNA. In 1895 her great-great aunt, Pauline Gross, a seamstress in Ann Arbor, Michigan, confided to a pathology professor at the local university that she expected to die young, like so many others in her family. Rather than dismiss her fears, the pathologist chose to enlist Pauline in the careful tracking of those in her family tree who had died of cancer.

Pauline's premonition proved true — she died at 46 — but because of her efforts, her family — who the pathologist dubbed 'Family G' — would become the longest and most detailed cancer genealogy ever studied in the world. A century after Pauline's confession, researchers would identify the genetic mutation responsible for the family's woes. Now known as Lynch syndrome, the genetic condition predisposes its carriers to several types of cancer, including colorectal, endometrial, ovarian and pancreatic.

In 2001, as a young mother with two sons and a keen interest in survival, Ami McKay was among the first to be tested for Lynch syndrome. She had a feeling she'd test positive: her mother's side of the family was riddled with early deaths and her own mother was being treated for the disease. When the test proved her fears true, she began living in "an unsettling state between wellness and cancer," and she's been there ever since. Intimate, candid, and probing, her genetic memoir tells a fascinating story, teasing out the many ways to live with the hand you are dealt. (From Knopf Canada)

Ami McKay is a novelist based in Nova Scotia. Her books include The Birth House and The Virgin Cure.

From the book

One week after 9/11, I walk into a hospital in rural Indiana and ask a nurse to draw six vials of blood from my arm. I need to know what the future holds, at least my meagre part of it. I'm a healthy, thirty-three-year-old mother of two who can't stop thinking about what tomorrow might bring.

A small TV perched on a filing cabinet in the nurse's office is tuned to the morning news. A commentator with perfect hair and straight teeth stares at me from the screen. The crawl beneath her smiling face reads: IS THIS THE NEW NORMAL?

The nurse, prepping her kit, asks, "Will this make you squeamish?"

"No. I'll just look away."

I don't. I watch every step of the procedure from start to finish—the elastic band pulling tight around my arm, the nurse's fingers prodding for a vein, the slip of the needle into my skin, the steady flow of dark red blood into each tube as the nurse deftly swaps them, one after another—one, two, three, four, five, six. I'm looking to see if I can spot the ghosts in my blood.


From The Daughter of Family G by Ami McKay ©2019. Published by Knopf Canada.

Interviews with Ami McKay

Ami McKay talks to Shelagh Rogers about her memoir, Daughter of Family G: A Memoir of Cancer Genes, Love and Fate. 16:42

Other book by Ami McKay

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