Big Sky Publishing (2009)
Pieces of Me is not a self-help book. It is not a structured guide for the general public on surviving a genetic diagnosis. It is certainly not a textbook. It is one woman’s account of how she and her family have coped with the discovery that the family history of breast cancer was, in fact, due to an inherited BRCA2 mutation.
Ms Neave is an actor, a creator, and writes with eloquence about her ongoing journey through the complicated world of a diagnosis of cancer predisposition and subsequent decision making about her risk management options.
She begins with painting a vivid picture of her family, covering far more than the facts of the breast cancers that took the lives of her grandmother, great-grandmother and has also affected her own mother. She describes her childhood, her training as an actor and the early years of her career in Sydney. Then there is the story of her mother’s original diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer, but quickly the reader is swept back into the highs and lows of Ms Neave’s career, love life and then the birth of her son, Kaspar.
About a third of the way into the book, the identification of a familial BRCA2 mutation is made, and the real meat of the story begins. Ms Neave’s account of how she received her own genetic result is by no means representative of the usual practice of familial cancer clinics in Australia (and one wonders how much of the story is true or lost to memory and emotion), but nonetheless, she now has to face the questions of what to do about her increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer. She is very honest and up-front about all her decisions and the experience of the surgery she chose. As a health professional working in this world every day, it is refreshing to read a patient’s perspective. I found her story to be engaging and accessible.
As mentioned, Pieces of Me is not a textbook, although Ms Neave has obviously done a lot of research and works hard to present factual information. However, Pieces of Me should not be relied on as a source of accurate medical advice, and nor do I expect that Ms Neave wishes it to be used in such a way. As such, I would not recommend this book to a patient facing similar circumstances without making it clear that this is simply one woman’s experience and her individual choices; all facts and medical advice should be checked, and possible decisions explored with their own team of experts. I would, however, recommend the book to health professionals who are interested in hearing a quite well written account of “pre-vivorship” in a young Australian woman.