“5, 6, 7, 8 …” I counted to 10 with my eyes closed. It was a Sunday afternoon and I was playing hide-and-seek with my niece. As I approached 10, my niece struggled to find a new place to hide. A brilliant idea struck her mind: She was standing there with her eyes closed, thinking that the darkness in front of her eyes would have enveloped others in the room, too.
It was then that I realised, that even when we grow up this idea doesn’t exit our minds. We feel that closing our eyes to reality actually changes it. Speaking for myself, I love non-vegetarian food, but can’t see a chicken or a goat being cut in front of me. This doesn’t mean that a non-vegetarian dish did not sacrifice them. As a kid, I have always felt uncomfortable discussing answers to a question paper after the exam. Did that change my evaluation? No! It only brought the exam result as a surprise. Was it helpful? No! I just pondered over whether I had made any mistake in the exam paper.
On similar lines, there is a stigma in a lot of families I know, to talk about cancer: If cancer is not discussed, it never occurred in the family. Sadly, the DNA replication process doesn’t follow what we talk about (or what we are silent about). If there is a genetic mutation running in the family, it is bound to make its way through the generations irrespective of whether we discuss it or not, allowing cancer to wield its cruel sword.
I personally know a family friend who has paid a high price for closing her eyes to the signs right in front of her eyes. When she was 21, her mother (aged 45) was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Considering the prevalence of heredity in early-onset ovarian cancer, my friend was asked to do a genetic test for the presence of a hereditary genetic mutation and she declined. I give her the benefit of doubt, considering that no one is inclined to take such decisions at such a tender age. My friend got diagnosed with late stage breast cancer at the age of 30. Words cannot explain how much she wanted to go back 9 years in time and get the test done when it was first recommended to her. Knowing that she was positive for a genetic mutation would have put her on a tight schedule of preventive screening and could have caught the disease much earlier. Then doctors could have given her more treatment options and her chances of survival would have been much higher.
Talking about cancer running in the family (both on the father’s and the mother’s side) can make a big difference. Mutations can be present in the family irrespective of whether we know about it or not. Knowing that a cancer-causing mutation is present in the family, and that too which exact mutation, helps you and your family members plan life well and take preventive actions.
Talk to your family about cancer. We all can learn from the mistake my friend made. A little feeling of awkwardness discussing a touchy subject with your family is nothing compared to the benefits of knowing about the presence of a mutation and being able to manage the risk associated with it. Don’t close your eyes to cancer. Cancer can see through the darkness and silence. Be empowered by the knowledge of your genes and show cancer who is in charge.
If you would like to discuss your family history of cancer with a genetic counsellor, please do not hesitate to reach out to us on 1-800-1022-695 (toll-free in India) for a free appointment.