Getting tested for the 26 cancer genes was extremely nerve-racking for many reasons, but mostly because the woman who talked to us did so with unreserved glee. There was a twinkle in her eyes when she asked, “Do you know why you’re here?” Genetic Jessica didn’t give me a chance to answer. Instead she leaned in across the table and announced dramatically, “Because you are WAY too young to have cancer. WAY too young. And I’m going to tell you all about the genes you don’t want to find out that you have.” She leaned back into her chair, tilted her head to the side and gave me the oh-you-poor-thing-you-have-cancer face. Cancer face, that’s what Amelia and I call it. We all know what that face looks like. If you think you’ve never seen it, try replacing the word ‘cancer’ with other words, like divorce, miscarriage, losing a job, break up, or addiction, to name a few.
When I gave the geneticist my history (mother just diagnosed with breast cancer, brother with an unidentified melanoma-type skin cancer a decade ago), she gave my a very grave look and pointed at one of the cancer genes on her chart of horrors. “This gene right here links breast cancer, melanoma and pancreatic cancer.” She raised an eyebrow and gave us a knowing look followed by a dramatic pause. Who the hell is this woman? I wondered. And why is she pelting us with massive amounts of negative information without taking a breath, almost proud of herself for the speed of her delivery of morbid news. I felt like she wanted to reach across the desk and shake me by my shoulders and then squeeze me into her bosom. Back off, lady.
A month later I found out that I don’t have any of these genes, but Genetissica wanted me to come back to meet with her anyway. Why? Well, Leah, there’s this other gene, that could be meaningless, and we don’t really know what it does, if anything, and it won’t affect your treatment choices, but I can tell you all about it in person. Um, hell no, Genetissica! I’m not spending another hour in your office of doom and drama.
Genetic testing is pretty amazing though and will continue to be a great tool for all sorts of illnesses. This ‘other gene’ I have is RAD51C, and there’s not enough data out there to even be talking about it yet. Ask me again in ten years.