Tuesday, October 16, 2012

It's All In The Genes

It’s All in the Genes
Or rather in my mother’s genes.  Or I guess if you want to get technical – in her mother’s.
A history lesson:
Many, many years ago, my maternal grandmother died from breast/ovarian cancer.  They aren’t really sure where it originated from first because many, many years ago, women did not go to the Dr. regularly and I think my grandmother was one of those ladies who thought that letting a male physician stick his fingers up her who-ha meant that she was a ‘loose woman’.  My mother was pretty young, so she doesn’t recall many of the events surrounding the diagnosis, but ultimately, my mother lost her mother to cancer.  I think my mother was around 14 years old.  Too young to lose her mother.  And obviously, her mother was far too young to lose her life.
I was in the 5th grade the first time that I realized that the money our family spent on feminine products was solely because of me.  My mother had been complaining that her stomach was hurting and she was feeling bloated and I suddenly shouted out, ‘I know!  You’re pregnant!  That’s got to be it.’   My mother tried to explain to me the divine likelihood of that ever happening, but I wouldn’t listen to her and told her I was 100% sure she was pregnant and I was so excited to be having a little brother or sister. 
‘S’…….,my mother sighed.  ‘I can’t be pregnant.  I’m fixed.’
‘What do you mean, ‘fixed’?
‘I mean, I don’t have a uterus anymore.  I had to have it removed.’
And that’s when my mother explained to me that she had pre-cancerous cells in her cervix that would not go away and so to keep her from getting cancer, they gave her a hysterectomy.  She was in her 30s. 
Yeah – her 30s; that meant squat to me when I was 10.  (And yes, before you do the month – I hit puberty waaaay tooooo young.) 
Fast forward to a month or so ago- and now I’m in my 30s and I’m sitting with my mother in a doctor’s office.  It took an act of God to even get her in the room.  My mother hates going to the Dr.  You would think that losing her mother at such a young age from cancer would make her hyper vigilant about her own health, but instead it had the opposite effect.  My mother chose to go the route of the ostrich and stick her head in the sand and simply ignore her family history.  She had not had an annual appointment in forever because, ‘if you don’t even have a uterus, what are they digging around in there for?’, and because ‘I feel fine.’ 
My mother would wait until a tumor was so big, it looked like a third boob before she would go to the doctor’s. 
So, here we are.  My mother, me, and her new doctor.  I did not like her last one.  I mean, come on – you shouldn’t be able to call your doctor up and say, ‘Yeah, I’ve had this cough for a couple of weeks, but I really think it’s just the ‘crud’.  Can you call me in a steroid pack?’ – and the idiot actually do it!
I made my mother a deal.  She would let me come to this appointment and I promised that I wouldn’t shout out, ‘NO – SHE SMOKES A WHOLE PACK A DAY!’ when she claims that she is down to 5.  Fair trade.  So, since it’s the first time he’s ever met my mother, he is asking her for all of her history.  And to give her credit, she gives it.  All of it.
Somehow, the ‘I had pre-cancerous cells and so they removed my uterus’ turned into……
I had pre-cancerous cells and so they removed my uterus.
And then a few years later, they discovered a lump in my breast – which turned out to be pre-cancerous – so they removed that too.
Oh, and my other Dr. (Mr. Idiot) discovered some kind of growth on my ovary.  Well, actually he thought I had an abdominal aneurysm (WTF!) but once he got to looking around in there, he saw that it was actually my ovary and there was a cyst on it.  But, it turned out to be not a big deal.
I’m still reeling over the fact that for the last 30+ years my mother has been going to see some quack who cannot tell the difference between an ovary and an aneurysm. 
How long as it been since he followed up on that?  Hmmm, well, I mean I had a couple of ultrasounds immediately following that, but nothing since then.  I guess that was when I was in my 40s.  (Yeah, you know 20 years ago!)
But, I did make sure to keep up on my mammograms.  I’ve had those yearly……up until about 5 years ago.
I think even the Dr. was not sure what the best way to say, ‘ARE YOU CRAZY?!’ was.
We left an hour or so later with a whole sheaf full of slips for different tests, labs, etc.  And to credit my mother, she kept each and every single appointment for each and every single test.  She had a ‘health check makeover’.  I held my breath for those few weeks until all the results were back.  And do you know what they found?
Not a damn thing!
Well, except for the fact that she smokes and needs to quit because she does have a touch of COPD.
About the time my mother quit congratulating herself, she received a letter in the mail from the physician who did her mammography.
They want her to come in for genetic testing.  To see if she has any of the harmful genetic mutations that put her at an increased risk for breast/ovarian cancer.  An increased risk?  Doesn’t the fact that she’s already had various cancerous things removed assess that?
At this point, I’m even skeptical.  I mean, my God, if the woman has gone this long with the health history she has and has not even bothered to see a real doctor in years, I’m thinking that she should save her money that she would have spent on the damned test and go buy lottery tickets.
The only thing that convinces my mother to have this testing done is that she’s not only doing this for herself, but for me and my daughter.
Oh – yeah, ummm….I forgot my own genetic destiny hanging in the balance over here.
So, tomorrow my mother goes to have her genetic testing done.  Being the ostrich that she is, she will surely tell her friends that she’s off to have the oil changed in her car.  And I can almost hear her say, ‘Ok, well thank you for telling me’, if the tests come back that she does have harmful genetic mutations.
Being the hypochondriac that I am, regardless of whether I, myself, am actually tested, I will surely run right to my Dr. and beg for a double mastectomy and hysterectomy, if the tests come back that she does have harmful genetic mutations.
Genes.  Those pesky little chromosomes. 

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