25 June 2012

Know Your Family Medical History

This last weekend I had the pleasure of participating in the 2012 Avon Walk for Breast Cancer Rocky Mountains event in Summit County, Colorado. This series of fundraising and awareness walks raises millions of dollars each year, in nine cities around the country. It is inspiring, exhausting, and incredibly rewarding.

At closing ceremonies on Sunday, I was thinking of my Mom, who is currently battling breast cancer. At the same time, I was looking into the eyes of my daughter, through my tears. She is my constant reminder as to why I participate in these events, through several organizations, and why finding better treatment options, and perhaps one day a cure, for breast cancer is so important. As I commonly say, I want her to read about cancer in the history books, not in her medical chart.

It is so important to be aware of your family history, and I know this is a common reason for people to become interested in genealogy originally.

Let's take a look at my family.

  • Maternal grandmother: breast cancer
  • Father: colon cancer
  • Mother: skin cancer, breast cancer

Now, my husbands family.

  • Maternal grandmother: breast cancer
  • Paternal aunt: breast cancer

Yep, our histories combined create a rather scary picture for our daughter, doesn't it?

We are certainly not unique in this combined history, there are many families out there who could list as many, or more, affected members. And this just reflects cancer - there are so many diseases and conditions that can be linked to genetics. Here's an example.

My husband has a rare form of diabetes, one that is passed down through the family. His grandfather had it, the gene was passed through his mother, and into him. It has to go through this pattern: male child to mother to male child. And it always skips that generation, it has to be carried through the mom. So, since we have a daughter, she will carry the gene, and if she has a son, he could develop the condition. However, my husband has two brothers, neither of which were affected.  Of course, this is all very recent history, so the pattern in his family has been well documented.

Other conditions to be considered in your medical family tree are:

  • Heart disease
  • Obesity
  • Asthma
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Some types of cancer

There are several great articles out there describing the how's and what's of researching specifically for medical history, and I strongly suggest we all read through them and spend some time focused on this important piece of our genealogy. 

Of course, in the meantime, I will continue to walk, run, snowshoe, snowboard and just about anything else I can do to raise money for breast cancer research. If you would like to contribute to my effort, or learn how you can participate in these organizations yourself, please message me. I would be happy to talk to you.

Be safe, be healthy. Increase your knowledge level, and most of all, inform your physician if you learn anything new.