Restoring some of my faith…

I am of great religious faith, but of really little faith lately in government and politics.  Corruption abounds.  Decisions befuddle me.

myriad 4

I watched with great interest this week as the Supreme Court heard the case of Myriad Genetics, looking to obtain a patent on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes because their work was largely responsible for encoding these genes that drastically increase a woman’s risk of breast and ovarian cancer.  BRCA has been in the news alot lately because of Angelina Jolie, and I hope her ordeal has served to increase awareness of genetic diseases and their potential consequences.

myriad 1

BRCA is not the gene affected in my family.  In our house its PTEN, another gene that when mutated greatly increases the risk of breast, thyroid, uterine, kidney, skin, and other cancers.

That however, is not the point.  So many people missed that this case was even in the Supreme Court, and maybe I would have too – before PTEN entered our lives.  But, genetic mutation or not  – the implication that a company could PATENT a human gene, and by doing so essentially block out research from any other company or individual is downright frightening to me.

My body, my genes, my cells, or anything else a part of me do not belong to any company.  My body is a gift to me from my Creator – plain and simple.  I care for it the best way I know how.  I seek out natural and medical cures where each is appropriate.  Between my daughter and I we see about 15 doctors regularly.  We weigh out their opinions, and we make our decisions.  We replace them if they don’t meet our needs.  This is a freedom that is inherent in this country.

http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2013/06/06/can-the-human-blueprint-have-owners/permitting-ownership-of-genes-stops-research  ( An interesting “before” article)

The thought that a company could patent the PTEN gene, and by doing so, essentially own the rights to a part of my body – AND , even worse restrict the already under-served research for this rare disease had me flat out outraged.  I have already had breast cancer.  I have already had a double mastectomy.  I have already had a hysterectomy.  I will be 40 in November.

myriad 3

My daughter will be 10 in August and potential thyroid cancer looms large in front of our faces.  She will one day have to face her own breast and uterine cancer risks.  I can only pray that there will be some groundbreaking research before its her time.

Thankfully – earlier this week I received an Email from my older sister moments after the Supreme Court handed down their UNANIMOUS decision, an excerpt of which is below.

Respondent Myriad Genetics, Inc. (Myriad), obtained several patents after discovering the precise location and sequence of the
BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, mutations of which can dramatically increase the risk of breast and ovarian cancer. This knowledge allowed
Myriad to determine the genes’ typical nucleotide sequence, which, in
turn, enabled it to develop medical tests useful for detecting mutations in these genes in a particular patient to assess the patient’s
cancer risk. If valid, Myriad’s patents would give it the exclusive
right to isolate an individual’s BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, and would
give Myriad the exclusive right to synthetically create BRCA cDNA.
Petitioners filed suit, seeking a declaration that Myriad’s patents are
invalid under 35 U. S. C. §101. As relevant here, the District Court
granted summary judgment to petitioners, concluding that Myriad’s
claims were invalid because they covered products of nature. The
Federal Circuit initially reversed, but on remand in light of Mayo
Collaborative Services v. Prometheus Laboratories, Inc., 566 U. S. ___,
the Circuit found both isolated DNA and cDNA patent eligible.

Held: A naturally occurring DNA segment is a product of nature and
not patent eligible merely because it has been isolated, but cDNA is
patent eligible because it is not naturally occurring. Pp. 10–18.

 

I follow a group on Facebook for Young “Previvors,”  a term used to indicate women dealing with genetic diagnosis that will greatly increase their risk of cancer.  They  give me hope with their strength, that one day when my own young “previvor” faces inevitable tough decisions, there will be young women around to support her.   This link was taken from their Facebook group.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/supreme-court-rules-human-genes-may-not-be-patented/2013/06/13/9e5c55d2-d43d-11e2-a73e-826d299ff459_story.html?hpid=z1

myriad 2

I can sleep a little easier today, even as Paul Offit continues to swear that ALL vaccines are safe and effective, and we should NOT take our vitamins.

http://philadelphia.cbslocal.com/2013/06/15/philadelphia-physician-dont-take-your-vitamins/

And even as I get a little queasy about the protections issued to Monsanto and their genetically modified foods, I have to feel a little better.  This week – the Supreme Court got it right.

 

Moving Forward

May 16th for years has had a special place in my heart.

In 1985 my cousin Meghan was born.  I was in the 6th grade and giddy to get to know her.  I never could have known at the time that her life would be tragically cut short after a more than 4 year battle with leukemia.

"Angel Meghan" - 1987
“Angel Meghan” – 1987

Her feisty nature,  her smile, her spirit, and her strength have always been an inspiration to me, and it was an honor years later, to be able to name my daughter after the spirited young girl who became an angel at 6 and a half, on my 18th birthday.

My daughter carries so many of the characteristics that endeared my cousin to me.  She is the same kind of spirit, who lights up a room, and makes everyone smile by being around them.  She endures medical procedures sparsely batting an eye, and accepts the reality of her life with grace.

My Meghan - Spring 2004

Last year on May 16th I was at NYU hospital, just 10 weeks after my bilateral mastectomy, undergoing a complete hysterectomy.  I knew that day I had the prayers of my family, and the strength of my angel by my side.

I have a “thing” for dates.  I remember numbers.  Maybe this is how my love of math shows through.  I like answers, and things that are absolute, or make some sense.  Maybe my recognition of dates, and anniversaries is a way of marking time – or maybe its a way of celebrating.  These anniversaries that I remember – some sad, others bittersweet, have shaped me as a person.  They are all pieces of that every evolving puzzle.

I thought about the surgery this morning.  I thought about it being a full year since all my “girl parts” were officially gone.  I thought of the perils of the hysterectomy recovery and how in so many ways this was a tougher surgery for me.  Then I thought about my relief, and how much less of a cancer risk I am than I was a year ago.  And I got dressed with a smile.

happy hysterecomy

I thought about Angelina Jolie.  I thought about how happy I am for her – that she was able to make an empowered decision to get out in front of her breast cancer risk.  I thought about how happy I am that she has brought genetic testing into light.

But a few things have really bothered me.

PTEN mutations (Cowden’s Syndrome and the sister disorders) carry with them the same imminent breast cancer risk.  I myself had been tested for BRCA1  years before I ever knew of PTEN. I was negative.  The genetic counselor who tested me did not even have PTEN on her radar screen.  I know its rare – I do.  But I have to believe this is the opportune time to at least educate the medical professionals, if not the public, on the reality that there are other genetic mutations that carry imminent cancer risks.  I am sure there are more that I haven’t learned about yet.  Let’s use this opportunity to raise awareness not only of the “popular” genetic mutations, but of the others as well.  Had my daughter never been diagnosed, by the well educated geneticist – it is likely I would not be here to write this today.

I am also bothered by the haters.  You know the haters.  The “Monday morning quarterbacks.”

They have crept out in quantity and I have a few words for them too.

BUTT OUT!

butt out

If you don’t like the idea of a prophylactic mastectomy – then don’t have one.  Plain and simple.

If you don’t like the idea of a complete hysterectomy at 38 because the alternative was 4x a year – yes you read that right- 4x a year SURGICAL uterine biopsies, then don’t have one.

When you live with the Sword of Damocles hanging above your head every day, when you have to go about your business, and work, and raise a child, and pay bills, and shop and function with the feeling of impending doom that is sometimes hard to shake – when you have a diagnosis of a genetic mutation that is not going away no matter what you do.  Then, maybe then you and I can talk.

damocles

Until then,  wish Angelina a good long healthy life.  Look up “genetic mutations that cause cancer” or “The Global Genes Project” or “The National Association for Rare Disorders.”  Get a feel for what we go through every single day of our lives.

You probably wouldn’t know us if you passed us on the street.  We are some of the strongest and bravest and smartest people you will ever lay eyes on.  We stop and smell the roses.  We hug.  We smile.  We laugh.  We get how fleeting life is.

May 16th will always be a significant day for me.

But, moving forward -so will every day.  The first year is over.  Now on with the rest of our lives!

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In case you are interested…

http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/a+sword+of+Damocles+hangs+over+head (Sword of Damocles)

http://globalgenes.org/ (Global Genes Project)

http://www.rarediseases.org/ (National Association of Rare Disorders)

https://www.facebook.com/ptenworld?fref=ts (Facebook Page for PTEN world)

Prophylactic Bilateral Mastectomy – Not just for the movie stars

I have been busy this week – working a on a few new projects.  Trying to find some distracting hobbies.  I need a few things to every once in the while take the focus off the imminent cancer risks plaguing Meghan and I every second of every day.

So, I started talking a lot about Isagenix, the product that did so much to give my husband back his health, and to help him lose over 30 pounds in the process.

This week I have signed up four friends to try to get healthy with Isagenix, and I feel good about advocating a high quality product.

http://meghanleigh8903.isagenix.com/us/en/landing_cfl.html#

Isagenix

This week involved hosting an anniversary party for two overly deserving parents.  It also involved some run of the mill nonsense – dealing with ridiculous medical bills and the like, from people who will never “get” what it means to have to spend every day of your life out in front of a chronic, potentially life threatening rare disease, PTEN Hamartoma Tumor Syndrome – or Cowden’s Syndrome, as we usually refer to it.

I do my best every day, to raise awareness of what it is like to live with a rare disease, a genetic mutation that predisposes my daughter and I to so many cancers.  I do my best, wearing proudly our denim ribbon, and sharing ribbons with friends and family, to educate the community on our, and other Rare Diseases.

hope its in our genes

Now, I know its slow going, but I am confident that more people in our community have heard about Cowden’s Syndrome than just a year ago.  Of that I am sure.  And we will continue our grassroots effort – one person at a time.  Until hopefully, one day everyone will know of the “Global Genes Project,” and the 7.000+ Rare Diseases besides ours that are out there.

Today I sat down at a scoring site for the State Math Exam, and two girls I never met before feverishly gushed over the bravery of Angelina Jolie.  Having heard nothing of the story, I asked what all the fuss was about.

English: Angelina Jolie at the Cannes film fes...
English: Angelina Jolie at the Cannes film festival. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“She had a preventative double mastectomy because she has a gene that makes it more than 80% likely she will get breast cancer.  She is so brave!”

I smiled in spite of myself.  I smiled in spite of the irony that had me wearing the T shirt “Yes, these are fake – the real ones tried to kill me!”

yes_theyre_fake_real_ones_tried_to_kill_me_light_t

I smiled because I thought it was great that Angelina was well and had gone public.

“You know she decreased her breast cancer risk to under 5% now?  She is so brave!  I can’t imagine anyone doing that!”

I still kept quiet.  I quickly checked my Emails to reveal that the blogs I follow regularly were all over the Aneglina story and had eloquently covered it.  I listened some more.

Finally, almost on cue, they got bored with their story and asked me about my necklace – the denim ribbon.

meg necklace3

I told them I my daughter and I had a rare genetic disease.  That the denim ribbon was the symbol for rare and genetic disorders.  They asked what the name of it was.  So as I identified “Cowden’s Syndrome,” the expected reply was given.  “I haven’t heard of that.”

“Well,” in my most succinct conversational tone, “PTEN is a gene that stops tumor growth.  Ours is broken so we are more likely to get cancerous and non cancerous tumors all over our bodies.  Especially in the breast, thyroid, and uterus.”

“YOU MEAN YOU HAVE THE SAME GENE BROKEN AS ANGELINA JOLIE???”

(Having not fully read any article I quick double checked my suspicions and confirmed,) “No, she has a mutation on the BRCA1 gene. My daughter and I have the same 85% risk of breast cancer, as well as countless other elevated cancer risks.”

“Well if you ever have to get a mastectomy at least you’ll know Angelina did it.”

You know I never much followed the stars.  And I am so grateful for Angelina Jolie for being brave and going public.  But there is so much more people need to learn.  Nothing comes in neat little packages.  Nothing.

I stretched out my shirt so they could read. “Yes – they’re fake , the real ones tried to kill me!”

are there any other mutations

“I had my double mastectomy.  Last year.  They found cancer.  And I am ok.  Genetic mutations aren’t just for movie stars.  Bravery isn’t just for those who have wealth and power.  There are more of us than you think.”

I was grateful when the tests arrived at the table.  It changed the conversation.  People don’t want to talk about cancer.  Especially not young women with genetically caused cancer.  It makes them uncomfortable.

I am glad Angelina Jolie went public.  I just wish the public would open their eyes to the realities that are undoubtedly right next to them every single day.  It doesn’t take a star.  Just a conversation.

Let’s talk.  Let’s listen.  Let’s learn.  We can save lives.