Weaving together family history, genetic discovery, and scenes from her life, Ami McKay tells the compelling, true-science story of her own family's unsettling legacy of hereditary cancer while exploring the challenges that come from carrying the mutation that not only killed many people you loved, but might also kill you.
The story of Ami McKay's connection to a genetic disorder called Lynch syndrome begins over seventy 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.
AMI McKAY is the author of three internationally bestselling novels--The Birth House, The Virgin Cure and The Witches of New York and the recent yuletide novella, Half Spent Was the Night. She began her writing career as a freelance radio journalist, and in 2001 wrote and produced a radio documentary, also called Daughter of Family G, that traced her decision to undergo genetic testing. It won a Silver Medallion at the Atlantic Journalism Awards, was nominated for a Gabriel Award, and aired on both The Sunday Edition on CBC Radio and on National Public Radio in the US. Her non-fiction work has also appeared in Elle Canada, The Independent, Canadian Living and Chatelaine. Born and raised in Indiana, McKay now lives in Nova Scotia.
“McKay breathes new life into the ghosts of her deceased relatives, presenting them in vignettes as characters that readers come to care about. Conflicts abound throughout the memoir, captivating readers’ interest and heightening the tension. . . . McKay should be commended for her honesty and thoroughness in tackling this difficult subject. Her memoir is a thought-provoking eye-opener that is hard to put down.” —Winnipeg Free Press
“A lovingly chronicled family tale about fatal genetic predisposition. . . . In the best of creative non-fiction writing, this genetic memoir weaves together her family history and scenes from her past. . . . Beautifully written.” —Annapolis County Spectator
“Ami McKay, how do you do it? How do you turn a tale of cancer genetics gone mad into a surreal and beautiful story of love and resilience and genealogy and history? Daughter of Family G is more than a memoir—it manages to unfold and examine all of our pasts. How do we define ourselves? What is destiny? Is fate as simple as it sounds, or can it be rewritten? This book became a bible of sorts for me, providing me with the most brilliant tools to imagine my own future. Every single time I turned a page, I felt more invested in the lives of Ami and Ami’s family. Her ability to be vulnerable and open was beautiful. How she faced her personal demons and gave them heart was everything. I was sad when it was over. I wanted to follow Ami to her house and sit at her kitchen table and ask her a hundred questions. This book read so much like a novel. It was suspenseful and heartfelt and scary and wonderful. Who knew cancer could be so interesting.” —Jann Arden
“Ami McKay’s memoir is a deep and relevant meditation on navigating the terrain between the genes we inherit and the life we choose. For McKay, despite a life-threatening mutation, it is life-affirming family love that triumphs.” —Pauline Dakin, author of Run, Hide, Repeat
“Ami McKay’s book mourns all that is lost, but is no tragedy. Instead, she celebrates the ancestors who contributed so much to our understanding that cancer is in part hereditary. More importantly, she teaches us through moving stories and memories how to live and live on beyond the grasp of destiny.” —JJ Lee, author of The Measure of a Man
“This beautifully told, genre-bending story is part mystery and part love story that reads like historical fiction. I couldn’t put it down. It’s the rare book that makes you laugh, cry and learn so much.” —Tina Cassidy, author of Mr. President, How Long Must We Wait
“Infused with hard-won wisdom, this brilliant memoir of a family haunted by cancer is an invitation, in the face of fear, to be “wildly, passionately, outrageously devoted to life.” Bees, crinoline, hospital labs, kindness, grief, despair, and especially love—the large and small signatures are all here, recognizable, heartbreaking, and confirming. Moved to tears, I held this profound and courageous book to my heart, reminded of life’s frail wonder.” —Beth Powning, author of The Sea Captain's Wife