Originally published at Mostly Filler. Please leave any comments there.
I’ve been thinking a lot about cancer lately. I saw 50/50. That made me think of it. Today, it was announced that Steve Jobs succumbed to pancreatic cancer. This is the same form of cancer that took my grandma at fifty and my uncle at forty-four. Mostly, though, I’ve been thinking about cancer because my cousin went in for genetic testing to see if she has the cancer gene. I’m not entirely sure on the science of how this works, so I won’t be including much about it.
There are two sides to the argument for genetic testing. On the one hand, it can allow a person to prepare or it could allow them some piece of mind. On the flip side, it almost feels like playing God. It almost feels like knowing more than one should. Of course, if one happens to be an atheist, this argument isn’t a problem. I don’t think it’s quite as bad as the science behind cloning or possibly deciding the sex of your unborn child.
My sister is someone I would advocate doing this. In fact, she did do it. Luckily, her test came back and she has no potential cancer genes. You see, my mom was eighteen years-old when she had my sister and she put her up for adoption. When they found each other, my sister decided that while she did want a relationship with my mother (and me), she did not want to know her biological father. So, that side of her family history was a mystery. She didn’t know the family history, so she didn’t know what signs to look for. This seems especially important since, apparently, its the father’s side of the family that one needs to look at for these things.
My cousin who had this testing has a family. She has two wonderful children who happen to be two of my favorite people in the entire world. She has a reason to want to know. It isn’t just her grandmother and father who died of cancer. Her other three grandparents also died of cancer. Her aunt (my mother) was a cancer survivor. To put it bluntly, the family history is bleak.
Her sister, my other cousin (obviously), is also going to get tested. This has led to encouragement that I get tested. I’ve given it some thought. Right now, whatever I decide doesn’t entirely matter because I don’t have medical insurance (that’s another blog entry entirely). I am told that with my family history, that my insurance would approve the testing. I’ve made a decision, though.
I don’t want to know.
My cousin and I are at very different places in our lives. She’s finished with college, she’s married, and she has two children. She’s got a happy, settled life and it isn’t just her future that she needs to consider. I am in the middle of college and single. My life is just beginning and while I have a great family, it’s just me that I need to consider right now.
That isn’t my main reason for not wanting to know this. It isn’t even a reason at all. The issue is that I don’t want knowing this information to hinder my life in any way. I’m also about to say something on here that I’ve never told to anyone, though they may have gathered as much just through conversation.
As you may have gathered from previous entries, my mom passed away. It’ll be four years this December. She had a lot of ailments. A lot. She survived cancer. They found it on her six-week checkup after I was born, which is why I was their only child. Due to an issue with her hysterectomy, there was a myriad of other problems throughout the rest of her life. These problems really began on my eighth birthday and it was really all downhill from there. I have no memory after that of my mom having a completely healthy day. During her last four years of life, I was home with her everyday taking care of her. I was with her, literally, until the very last moment of her life.
The point is, I watched everything that she went through. I watched her day in and day out as she was in pain and miserable and couldn’t sleep and sometimes couldn’t even remember her own name. I was twenty-three when she died.
She nursed her mother when she was sick with cancer. She was there with her everyday helping her with whatever she needed. When my grandmother went in for surgery, my mother wouldn’t leave her side until she was forced to go home, clean up, and get some rest before coming back to the hospital. My mother was twenty-four when her mother died.
It feels like a pattern has formed. I’ll admit to moments of paranoia. This is the part that I’ve never really voiced to anyone. This apparent pattern (which, I’m aware, could just be coincidence) has made me reconsider what I want for my future. The important issue is whether or not I want to have children. I’ve asked myself if I want to have a child if there’s a chance that the child could go through what my mother and I went through with me, and then if their child went through the same thing. There are a lot of what ifs involved with this.
So, let’s say that I do get this genetic testing. I find out that I have the gene that could mutate into cancer. Does this mean I don’t have children? Does this mean that my family line stops with me? It would on my dad’s side since he is an old child and I am his only child.
What would I do if I did know? Would I eat healthy foods and exercise regularly? I already do that. I already make an effort to be as healthy as I can. I don’t smoke, I don’t do drugs, and I don’t drink. I’m aware of my own body and I know what to look for.
If I know, there’s a chance that I could let that knowledge hinder my life and keep me from living it to the fullest. That’s what I don’t want. I’ve already had thoughts like that because of what happened to my mother and grandmother.
Like I said, I’m in a different place than my cousins and even my sister. I could very well change my mind at some point. But, right now, I want to live my life to the fullest and for me, that involves not knowing.
By the way, I’m aware that I could test negative for the gene and still end up with cancer. Cancer sucks. I’m pretty sure that is the one thing that everyone in the world, no matter who they are or what they believe in, can agree on.