Friday, September 10, 2010

Letter to My Double Helix

Dear Double Helix,

You’re probably wondering why I’m writing to you now, after 30-some years.  Yes, that’s how long it’s been since I sat in Miss Ganim’s 10th grade biology class studying your components—adenine, thymine, guanine, and cytosine—your “founders,” Watson and Crick, and the guy on whose shoulders they stood, Gregor Mendel.  Remember him?  He’s that Austrian monk who tinkered with those garden peas, eventually earning himself the title of “Father of Modern Genetics.”

Indeed, thanks to the monk’s toying with those plants, it’s clear just how I ended up with brown eyes, curly auburn-ish hair, and a gait that from behind (my mother always said) is exactly the same as my father’s.  Factor in some additional family history, the work of the human genome project (completed in 2003), and the availability of genetic testing, and it’s relatively clear (relatively being the operative word here) how I also ended up with a BRCA2 gene mutation--6174delT to be precise—that increases my lifetime risk of breast and ovarian cancer.  Needless to say, Double Helix, I’ve been thinking about you quite a bit in recent days.

I’ve also been doing and not doing lots of other things.  Here’s a short list:
  1. I’ve been sharing this news with people I care about and who, I know, care about me.
  2. I’ve been making doctor’s appointments right and left, starting with my own gynecologist.  Next week:  a few specialists to whom she's referred me.
  3. With just a few exceptions (this one suggested by the geneticist and this one by a friend), I’m not visiting websites or even thinking about typing "6174delT" into that ubiquitous Google search bar.  At the moment, I want to hear only from my own docs about what this mutation means for me.  I don’t really need to know right now about anyone else’s jaunt, sprint or saunter down this path.
  4. Most of all, I’m trying not to panic, flip out or totally lose it.  Instead, I’m praying for grace, strength and courage, and doing my best to follow the imperative on the sign in the storefront I see each morning on my way to work:  “Keep Calm and Carry On.”
Having said that, I’m off to the Baruch bookstore to get this semester’s books.  With any luck, I'll have enough of a head to pay attention and read them... 

Later, Double Helix,

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