The Branch That Broke off the Family Tree

My contact with extended family has been sporadic throughout my lifetime. There was the visit from my cousins that I am too young to remember; my aunt and uncle visiting when I was six, and my grandparents when I was eight. There were the trips to Michigan when I was ten and another when I was eleven.  I know nothing about my paternal grandmother, not even her name.  She left an abusive man and young kids behind to live her own life. I know more about the history of the maternal side. There are no biologically related cousins so as far as the present, it is a genetic dead end for my medical file. My paternal cousins, on the other hand, are female and numerous.

The contact with the family diminished after that last trip to Michigan. I briefly corresponded with a couple of my cousins on MySpace and my father talks to his sisters a couple of times each year.  Other than that, silence.

I am the only one that’s had cancer. It’s never made sense to me that I was an outlier; it seemed it had to have come from somewhere. But given my extensive history as the family black sheep, it shouldn’t be so surprising to me. BRAF testing wasn’t done when I was originally diagnosed with thyroid cancer and there’s been no reason for me to undergo any genetic testing in the years since. So when I had my annual check-up last week, I gave my usual response when asked about family history of cancer, “Just me.”

That night, I logged onto Facebook and snooped on one of my cousin’s profiles. A few months back, there was a mention on a post about her undergoing chemotherapy. Since chemotherapy is often used as a treatment for other diseases, like lupus, and she had all of her hair in the photo, I brushed it off in the absence of any other evidence. This time there was evidence. She has been undergoing treatment for metastatic colorectal cancer, diagnosed nearly a year ago at age 40. As third-degree relatives, we share 1/8 of the same genes. I am a redhead. So is this cousin. We are the only offspring that have red hair. We are also now the only offspring to have cancer. Fantastic.

I am concerned. One of the reasons for my check-up last week was to get a referral to a gastroenterologist. I have chronic issues, some of which show up as symptoms of this cancer, and have been putting this off for two years. I had a referral at least once before and never went. The thought of undergoing a colonoscopy, which I am certain is in my very near future thanks to this new discovery, terrifies me. In order to keep costs low and profits high, Versed is the drug of choice, along with a token dose of painkillers. Versed gives patients amnesia. It’s not a painkiller. I am 100% NOT on board with putting my body into the hands of these people. I do not trust them to do anything right, or humane, when I am not taking copious notes with my eyes. I have an appointment with the gastro in two weeks. I’m going to have to grit my teeth and get through this on my own. My attempts at explaining why I have PTSD have not been met with open arms by the physicians at UCLA. I haven’t told anyone about my cousin. But there’s no way out of this now and I’d rather risk more trauma than not know I have  treatable cancer until it becomes untreatable.


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