Roseville, genetic mystery, underpin ‘Summer’s Complaint’


Laura Kieger

courtesy of Laura Kieger • A March 2007 Roseville Review story about Laura Kieger’s brother, Roseville police Sgt. Eric Christensen. He died of cancer in 2006, the result of a rare genetic cancer syndrome that affects Kieger’s family and is the subject of her book, “Summer’s Complaint.”

“Summer’s Complaint” by Laura Kieger.

It was an event that Laura Kieger says effectively ended her childhood: her 3-year-old nephew, Markie, died from a rare form of cancer the summer after she’d finished fourth grade.

His passing and her memories of it start Kieger’s book, “Summer’s Complaint: My family’s courageous, century-long struggle with a rare genetic cancer syndrome.”

“I knew [Markie’s death] would be the first chapter because it changed me profoundly,” she says, “and because it hurtled me from child to adulthood, unfairly.”

Kieger, 59, grew up in Roseville, and the city and its landmarks run through “Summer’s Complaint.”

Community members might remember her brother, Sgt. Eric Christensen, a Roseville police officer who died of cancer in November 2006. She says his death, on top of other family members’ early passings, was when her family realized the scope of what might lie in their genes.

“At the time that he passed away, it was right after that that we realized this disorder, this syndrome, was really bigger than we’d ever wrapped our heads around,” she says.

 

‘The Neighborhood’

Kieger, who has had a long career as a human resources professional in healthcare and now lives in Lino Lakes, says she wrote “Summer’s Complaint” because she “thought it was a story worth telling.”

“There’s a lot of audiences for this book,” she says. “People who like family stories, people affected by cancer, people interested in genealogy, where they came from, what might be hiding in their own DNA.”

Kieger grew up on Shryer Avenue and attended Parkview Junior High and Alexander Ramsey High School.

 

“I was incredibly fortunate to grow up in ‘The Neighborhood’ in Roseville, Minnesota, and to know such wonderful people,” she writes in her book’s acknowledgments.

While Kieger says the book isn’t a personal memoir — it’s more a story of her courageous family and what it’s been through — she says it’s also part love letter to her childhood, though even then she knew “we were different.”

Familiar Roseville places pop up in “Summer’s Complaint;” there’s swimming at the reservoir and winter fun at Mount Villa, walks to the Parkview rec to “make ashtrays and key chains and do pottery,” Kieger says.

“It was just a wonderful place to grow up — we were free-rangers.”

 

Family, 

medical intrigue

Much of the plot of “Summer’s Complaint,” which in Kieger’s family’s case is what they called their genetic cancer syndrome before really knowing what it was, was driven by both Kieger’s curiosity and a disbelief of what kept happening to her loved ones.

“It was a combination of being overly curious, and I was so upset about what the family was going through at that point,” she says, referring to when her brother died. “I just couldn’t believe it, so I spent a lot of time researching, researching and printing off white papers and talking to people I knew in healthcare and trying to figure out why this kept happening.”

Kieger did arrive at an answer: familial-adenomatous polyposis, a gene mutation that is characterized by colon and rectal cancer.

While parts of “Summer’s Complaint” read nearly like fiction, Kieger says, it also contains a healthy dose of science. She says she did her best to balance the medical pieces with the human story.

“It’s almost like a case study in a family, a gene and what can happen.”

 

Moving forward

Kieger says her book was written over the course of a year and a half and published, to her surprise, last December.

With the book’s story spanning generations and its sensitive and private subject matter — her relatives’ medical histories — she says the editing process involved more than just her and her editor. Her family weighed in as well, and it had its benefits.

“It allowed me to quell some of the anxiety that I had about writing the book and it allowed me to individually meet them where they were at, in terms of their memories and how they see things looking back,” Kieger says.

She says she hopes “Summer’s Complaint” could also spark discussions in other families.

“Your family’s health history is one of the best health-screening tools you have available and it’s absolutely free,” she says, “and allows you to have deep, meaningful conversations with the people you care about.”

Kieger adds that a family like hers can’t go without health insurance, and she presses people who could have inherited health issues to speak to a genetic counselor, to advocate for themselves and their families. 

Through her journey of learning about her family’s genetic syndrome, and through writing her book, Kieger says her curiosity turned into something else.

“I’ve accepted it now,” she says. “We’d been given something that not many families had to deal with and it was meant to be written. I don’t know how else to say it.”

 


IF YOU GO...Laura Kieger will appear at Lake Country Booksellers in White Bear Lake for a reading of “Summer’s Complaint” on Friday, Sept. 14, from 10 to 11:30 a.m. The bookstore is located at 4766 Washington Square.


 

“Summer’s Complaint” was published by Critical Eye Publishing and is available on Amazon.com.

 

– Mike Munzenrider can be reached at mmunzenrider@lillienews.com or 651-748-7813

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