History

by Lorin Michel Saturday, January 7, 2017 8:40 PM

We have been conditioned to believe that the only reason something bad happens to a person is because of poor habits, bad karma, or family history. The medical profession perpetuates the latter by asking questions on the forms we have to fill out prior to seeing someone for something or nothing at all. Is there a family history of… heart disease, cancer, ingrown toenails? I understand this because sometimes genetics are involved. Family history can lead to genetic testing and you might find out you possess a BRCA gene. BRCA1 and BRCA2 are genes that produce tumor suppressor proteins that help repair damaged DNA. When these genes mutate, they don’t function correctly and they can lead to breast and ovarian cancer. 

That’s a rudimentary explanation. Essentially, gene mutations aren’t good. You get your genes from your heritage, your family history. It’s genetic. And therefore, family history matters. 

Except when it doesn’t. 

I’ve gotten very cynical as I’ve gotten older, about everything, including health and medicine. I know that the biggest risk of developing breast cancer, for instance, is age. It doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with whether your Aunt Bertha had it. It just happens. 

But as humans, we need a reason and when something bad happens, we want to know why and sometimes to assign blame. My mom has said to me in the past, when discussing things like health care and even cancer, that we don’t have a history of that in the family. We don’t. And yet, there’s never history of anything until it happens. Until someone does it first, and then blammo, history has been made.

So much of what happens to us is random. There is no reason, no matter how hard we try to find one, to assign one. My friend Lisa’s son has had cancer twice. I think he’s 14 now. Why did that happen? It just did. Why does someone who’s smoked two packs of cigarettes every day for 40 years not get lung cancer but someone who’s never smoked a single butt get diagnosed and die within a year? 

I suppose I’m pragmatic. If it happens, you deal with it. There is no other choice, not really. You can curl up into a ball, push yourself into the corner and eat your hair, but it’s not going to help change the fact that you’ve just made history. You’ve just changed your family’s history forever. 

My nephew is in the hospital again. On New Year’s Eve they rushed him to Children’s Hospital in Boston because he had a bowel obstruction. It turned out that he was a rare case, an 11-year-old, who still had a small piece of his umbilical cord inside and his intestines, in trying to expel it, ended up wrapping themselves around it so tight nothing else could get through. Another rudimentary explanation of something called Intussusception. He had surgery and was discharged several days later only to develop a raging infection so they’re back in Boston and Caden is on a high-dose antibiotic drip. He should be able to go home Monday morning. I was talking to my sister this morning. She’s exhausted. Drained, is the word she used. Even so, she realizes that when this is over, after a not too long while, they’ll all forget about it and move on. What happened to Caden isn’t genetic. It’s more like a freak occurrence. But he has history now, even though it probably won’t happen again and if he has children, he won’t pass it on to them. 

History happens when one day passes into another. It can make us look back fondly or with fear. But it is there, always. Today will be history soon. There won’t be any evidence of it until it happens, until it changes the course of a life, however mildly, however small.

History happens, and we embrace it, or not. But it becomes part of us, for the better and often for the worse, but it helps us to understand more as we muddle through this journey called life and living it out loud today so that someone someplace tomorrow can say “I heard you loud and clear.”

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