Take a Look at My Pedigree!

It’s been a long time since I’ve heard the word, “Pedigree.” I think that’s a dog food, right? So it should never be used to describe me or my family. Right? Wrong. I’ll get to my personal pedigree in a moment, but first…

When I was a little girl, my dad would breed dogs. Since Golden Retrievers can pass down hereditary hip problems, it’s essential that you carefully comb through a dog’s pedigree before breeding.

***Side note: My dad also bred horses (but never to dogs because that would have been weird). I got to see the birth of a foal once. These days, you can watch anything you want on the internet, but 35 years ago, if you didn’t see it live, you didn’t see it at all. The memory of the placenta is seared in my brain. It was blue.

Back to the story: I remember being pulled out of bed in the middle of the night many times during my childhood. Shoes barely on my feet, I would run as fast as my little legs would take me, not wanting to miss the magic happening in the barn. I would quietly slip through the door, trying not to disturb the new momma. Within a few weeks I’d be squealing and rolling around that same barn floor with a mess of puppies nipping at my face.

My understanding of pedigree has always been associated with animals, so imagine my surprise when I went to a genetics clinic in Columbus and the doctor started talking about my pedigree. I was there for the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 tests which will basically tell us if I have the breast cancer gene. In case you follow pop culture, the BRCA test is the reason Angelina Jolie had both breasts and her uterus removed. She had a pretty rough pedigree.

Here’s mine. IMG_4688

It’s quite an impressive pedigree, apparently. I may submit it with my taxes this year, just so they know the awesomeness they’re dealing with.

The squares represent boys, the circles are girls. The ones with slashes through them are dead. The rest of us are alive. The ones partially shaded have dealt with some form of cancer. The ones completely colored in black have breast cancer.

Now if you look closely at that picture, you’ll see the only circle completely filled in is mine.

I’m it. I’m the only one. I’m so incredibly grateful for this pedigree because it means cancer is not attacking my family. However… there is always a however. The doctor went on to explain that I have permanently altered my daughter’s pedigree. And my sons’ since they will pass along their genetic history to their own children.

It’s not something I did on purpose or that I could even control, but it’s by far (for me) the hardest side effect of cancer. Looking at the scar on my chest isn’t nearly as painful as knowing my sweet daughter, who doesn’t even have breasts yet, will be subjected to doctors and questions and testing, year after year, because of her momma’s story.

If you are a daughter, sister, mother or aunt of a breast cancer survivor, I bet you know what I mean. It takes that beautiful pedigree and dumps a jar of ink on it.

The geneticist says I have a one in gazillion chance of having the breast cancer gene (I may have made up the statistic, but it was something like that), which means Jordan won’t have that particular worry. I gave the clinic a little blood and they’ll give me the final results in a few weeks.

So, here’s the thing. I can dwell on what I’ve given Jordan, or I can dwell on what else I’ve given Jordan. It’s the same for you. We as parents will always mess up something. There will always be a childhood disfunction for our kids to talk about on the therapist’s couch someday. That’s the way life works! We have to brush ourselves off, give ourselves grace and agree to try again tomorrow to be the parents these children deserve, knowing that the good they are receiving from us far outweighs the bad.

Then we’ll truly have a pedigree worth bragging about.

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