Family secrets – does your family have any?
I wonder if this blog post title is going to make some of my relatives squirm as they wonder what family secrets I might be divulging…
I’m not too worried though because first of all, not that many members of my family read my blog and secondly, I’m not divulging that kind of family secrets!
(Is that a sigh of relief I hear?)
Every family has secrets or things no one outside the family knows for one reason or another.
My family is no exception.
The family “secret” I do wish to share about isn’t really a secret at all. Not any more anyway, but it was for a very long time.
This particular “secret” was one hidden for perhaps generations in my family’s DNA. Yes, I’m talking about the BRCA2 gene mutation.
My mother’s breast cancer diagnosis came in 2004. At that point in time, we didn’t know about this particular family secret; therefore, her treatment plan did not take into consideration this potentially important piece of information.
In 2006, she was tested for the BRCA2 gene mutation after a different family secret was revealed to us. She tested positive.
I’m not divulging further details about that other family secret here for a host of reasons…more to come in my book.
I will say that the very first clue about both of these two family secrets came many years ago – on my wedding day in fact. It was a clue, but I didn’t know it at the time. That wasn’t yet possible.
But that’s another story and another secret…
Needless to say, after learning my mother was BRCA2+, our family was more than a bit rattled by this revelation about our family’s gene pool.
We did a lot of reading, absorbing, contemplating and a whole lot of questioning.
Then, in 2007 my mother’s breast cancer recurred.
Would my mother’s cancer outcome have been different had we known about this particular family secret at the time of her initial diagnosis?
Would her treatment course have been different from day one?
There are no definitive answers to these questions, though admittedly I have wondered about these things many times.
When a person is diagnosed with any serious illness, you go with the knowledge you have and can garner at the time. You do the best you can and make the best decisions based on what you know at that moment.
Second guessing later on is pointless.
I’d also like to add, I hold no resentment or ill feelings toward those who came forward and shared family secrets. I am in fact, grateful to them. My treatment path was/is directly impacted by this knowledge.
Now on to the main focus of this blog post.
As many of you may know, this week is National Hereditary Cancer Awareness week.
The focus during this particular week used to be primarily on hereditary breast and ovarian cancer and even more specifically on families which carry the BRCA1 and 2 gene mutations. However, hereditary cancer is not just about BRCA mutations and hereditary cancer does not just encompass breast and ovarian cancer. There are other genes/mutations linked to cancer risk. For a list, click here: An overview
We know there are likely even more.
I want to take this opportunity to encourage you, Dear Readers, to sit down with your family members and discuss things like family trees, illnesses lurking in the past and patterns of disease, if any, that seem to be apparent in your family’s history.
Here are a few tips for things to discuss:
Discuss what your ancestor’s lives were like if this information is available. Find out where they came from and attempt to uncover informational pieces about their lives and medical history.
Do some digging and figure out how old your grandparents and great grandparents (and as far back as you’re able to go) lived to be and what they ultimately died from. If you can, also delve into the lives of those aunts, uncles and cousins of years gone by.
Be sure to look at both sides of your family tree. The paternal side is equally important. Astonishingly, some doctors still don’t inquire about a patient’s paternal side when it comes to discussing family history of breast or ovarian cancer.
Take notes and make a record of what you find. There are some helpful tools now available to assist with recording family history.
Talk to your doctor if patterns arise, and don’t allow your concerns to be brushed aside.
If you do find patterns of breast and ovarian cancer cropping up indicating a hereditary link, visit FORCE, an organization dedicated to offering support to families with hereditary risk factors.
If you continue to be concerned about patterns and hereditary issues or have questions, seek out and meet with a genetic counselor. This can be a great help if you are contemplating genetic testing of any sort.
We are learning more and more each day about the role genetics plays in our health as well as in our illnesses.
Having these important discussions about your family’s medical history might not seem important today or even tomorrow, but someday the information you may or may not find just might matter to you or a loved one.
I’m living proof.
Perhaps you won’t find any important medical secrets, and in fact, you probably won’t.
Perhaps you’ll simply learn more about your own amazing family and that in itself is worth the discussion, right?