Amy Boesky was always looking over her shoulder. She knew a sharpshooter was following her, but she could never make visual contact. Amy wasn’t alone; her two sisters and mother were also being shadowed. Other members of Amy’s family (their black and white pictures hanging on the wall in Amy’s home) had fallen, and Amy was aware of the tick-tock of the clock, wondering if her name was next on the list. The novel: What We Have: One Family’s Inspiring Story about Love, Loss, and Survival. An international spy novel? No, a wonderful memoir by Amy Boesky, chronicling how fear of developing ovarian cancer (the sharpshooter) dictated many life decisions, and how she took back her life. In the pages of this poignant, familial, often humorous book, we watch Amy’s transformation as she names and faces her fears, finds strengths she never knew she had, embraces the goodness around her and chooses to live her life as normally as possible.
At age 32, Amy has a great job as an assistant professor in Washington DC, a new man named Jacques and a baby on the way. The future lies before them. But Amy has deadlines. She and her sisters have set age 35 as the cut-off date for having babies, afterwords having preventive surgery to hopefully protect themselves from ovarian cancer. Amy’s mom Elaine and older sister Sara have already had the surgery and Amy is marking the calendar as each day of her life moves closer to 35. Adding to her stress is Jacques, whose inner clock runs on an opposite timetable. Trying to find balance between the immediate and the “it will get taken care of” is yet another plate Amy tries to keep spinning.
Boesky has an honest, authentic voice as she describes the first year of motherhood. The exhaustion, the baby’s inconsolable crying (was it colic?), the sweet moments when everything goes right, the breastfeeding issues, the slow transition from nervous and anxious to competent and comfortable. As Amy narrates this season of life, her descriptive, heart-felt writing kept me involved in her challenges and cheering when she achieved success. In the midst of this first year of babyhood, Amy accepts a new teaching position and the family moves to Boston, living in a rental house with green shag carpet. Keeping in daily contact with her mother and younger sister Julie is Amy’s touchstone.
Amy shares more of the year following the Boston move, but I want you to read the book so I’m not giving too much away. Turning the pages through that year, I observed changes in Amy as she grows in her love for her expanding immediate family, finds a home that matches their hopes and budget, and lives through dark days with an unwanted outcome. Boesky sees that life can be lived in fear, or it can be lived with gratitude for the gift of each day that comes to us, for the preciousness of family love and time spent together, for the unknown possibilities and surprises. As I traveled with Amy, I, too, felt that life, the good AND the bad, is to be lived and lived bravely. I have long believed and marveled in the elasticity of the human spirit, and reading What We Have validated my trust in coming through the worst and being able to stand tall on the other side.
Reading What We Have was very personal for me. Breast cancer is the sharpshooter in my family and Boesky echoed many of the concerns and fears I have dealt with in the past. There are no simple answers when grappling with genetic testing, preventive measures, disclosing or staying quiet. And as Amy points out, those decisions can change as we move along our timeline. Combining what has gone before with what we now know, living each day deliberately, is the best we can do. Finding peace in those decisions is up to us.
Thanks to Gotham Books (and Jess) for the opportunity to read and review What We Have. I was provided a free copy of the book, and would like to share the book with one of my readers, so please leave a comment and include contact information. Comments will be closed on Wednesday, August 25 at 11:59pm and the winner announced within 24 hours of closing.
I was very fortunate to be able to have a short Q and A session with Amy Boesky. Thank you, Amy!
Lone: Before you wrote What We Have, did you have much discussion about this portion of your life with your girls? When the book was published, did you have to share more than you were ready to share? Or was it a good catalyst for discussion and options? Have they read the book , and what do they think?
AB: This is a great question, Paula. I did talk with them, in varying ways and at varying times, but I think writing the book (which has been happening slowly over the past 5 years or so) really did help as a catalyst, as you put it so well. The girls read drafts, especially of the prologue and conclusion, and we talked a great deal in relation to their reading.
Lone: Since the end of the story in 1993, have you seen more promising medical news/studies about ovarian cancer? Are you involved in any kind of studies since you have had the preventive surgeries?
AB: I continue to see my doctors at the Farber, and I know they are involved in a number of promising studies. But personally, I haven’t been involved with them. I think for me a big part of having surgery was the deal I made with myself that I could live a “normal life” (whatever that means!) once the surgery was done.
Lone: For a reader who has a hereditary family disease (mine is breast cancer), what would you hope they take with them after finishing your book?
AB: Another great question. I don’t believe in “one size fits all” when it comes to living with difficult choices. But I do feel that I want to make the hard questions more public—bring this into an arena where more of us can talk about it, consider ways in which we can make hereditary cancers easier to live with for the next generation.
I was provided a free copy of What We Have for this book review. I was asked to give an honest review and the opinions stated in this review are strictly my own. I was given no compensation.
Writing and photos property of LoneStarLifer. 2010. (Book cover provided by Gotham Books.)