...a few months ago, I began the process of genetic screening. It was over almost before it started.
As I sat with a genetic counselor, it became clear that although there is a whole lot of cancer in my family history, there's no real pattern. There is breast cancer, lung cancer, liver cancer, and now uterine cancer. But nothing showing a distinct genetic reason, which is what is needed for an insurance company to cover the $4,000 BRCA1 and BRCA2 tests (the tests that Angelina Jolie had done).
The best situation, the counselor explained to me, was to have my great-aunt Sally, my grandmother's only remaining sibling (and a breast cancer survivor) be tested for the gene. She went on to say that it's important for an older generation to get the test done so more members of the family can know if they are impacted (there are cousins I don't even know who if Aunt Sally tested positive for BRCA1 and BRCA2 could then get tested themselves). If I were to get the test, it would only be Clara and I who are impacted by the results.
My dear Aunt Sally, who hosted our family reunions in my childhood and braved frigid temperatures to come to my skating competitions and tell me how proud my grandmother would be of me, who is in her mid-90s, went for the test a few months ago.
And today we found out that all of the genetics tests came back negative.
I texted a few friends, who cheered. It was only Ken who said, "How does that make you feel?"
And this is what I said...
I know this is good news. I know it should feel like good news. I know I should be responding to texts and e-mails with words like, "Hallelujah!" and lots of exclamation points.
But if we had the gene. If we had the gene. If we had the gene, at least we could DO something about it. We could have a piece of paper, hold on to something concrete.
I know this might seem trite or insulting to those who have the gene. But you have to realize...not having the gene didn't keep my grandmother from getting breast cancer in her 40s, or my mom from getting cancer too. Environmental factors? Absolutely. Of the half-dozen cancer cases I discussed with the genetics counselor, most of them were at one point heavy smokers. Most likely they were exposed to asbestos at some point. But you can't look at a family tree, at my grandmother's five siblings, three of whom are dead from cancer and one from a heart attack, and not tell me that there's a genetic pre-disposition, somewhere, even if those environmental factors played a role too.
I am a very literal person. I like proof and evidence and truth. I like concrete things I can hold on to. I know I can eat right, I can exercise, I can get annual exams. But the truth? The truth is I am scared. The truth is I think about all the years I didn't get with my grandmother. I think about what my mom has lived through for the last three years. The truth is that not having the gene just makes me feel more like a ticking bomb than ever before.
My grandmother, Mary, and I circa 1980.