A T-Shirt and Blue Genes

There was a queue outside one of the classrooms at work as many of us waited to get our flu vaccinations. Of those in line, many retorted their dislike for getting a shot. The absence of others spoke even more loudly of where their position resided.

I didn’t even flinch when the needle pierced my left arm. For me, needles have become so common that, for some reason, I now find myself enjoying watching the needle penetrate the skin, as if it adds some sort of challenge to the exercise. When you get blood drawn as much as I do, perhaps you need to add a little excitement to the mundane.

Flu season apprehensions aside, yesterday I found myself once again in a place that I pay a visit to on at least an annual basis: the hospital.

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Once a year is far from an exorbitant amount, and there are certainly many who must visit on a far more regular basis than I — and, sitting in the cancer ward of Princess Margaret hospital, I saw many of those courageously battling various ailments.

While many of them must wonder why they were deemed suitable to be inflicted with their current condition, I was there to start the process of finding out if I have the right, or capacity, to ask similar questions, although rhetorical and in a far less serious sense than most I encountered yesterday.

Ever since 2007, when my dad, after numerous serious episodes, was officially diagnosed with Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy — a genetic gene disease that dangerously thickens the heart muscles — I have been screened for the hereditary condition. Infamous for falling asleep during lengthy ultrasounds, the process has never seemed more than routine.

Yesterday was the first time that I ventured outside the arena of routine testing. With screenings and ultrasounds continually returning encouraging results, I made the decision to partake in genetic testing – to determine whether I have the specific gene that my dad has. There are, of course, two possible outcomes: I either have the gene, or I don’t.

In the case that I don’t have it, it is almost certain that I will never develop the disease. If I do have it, it is almost equally likely that I will develop it — what isn’t clear, is when or to what degree. Nothing changes as the result of the test, other than knowing in which direction I’m heading, and that is the very reason I chose to have the testing done.

personGenetic testing is, of course, voluntary. To my mind, and given the opportunity, it makes sense to know if you have the possibility to develop the disease or not. At the risk of stating the obvious, not knowing doesn’t change the fact. The knowing, though, is the major drawback that most physicians asked me to consider when debating whether to go through with the testing.

Being aware that you have the gene can have negative impacts on people’s mental health, they told me. To me, though, knowing is the only option; having seen many people die from this condition — mostly as a result of not knowing they had it — and its severe impact on my dad — he had to have major open-heart surgery — there was no other choice.

I consider myself to be a mentally tough individual, and if it turns out that I have the gene, steps can start to be taken as countermeasures. Annual screenings would continue to monitor any progress, something that might not occur without this kind of test. In my mind, those positives, in terms of preventing it from progressing to a dangerous point without anyone realizing, heavily outweigh any mental baggage that may accompany that result.

For now, though, it’s simply a two to three month waiting game. And, much like the needles, I’m already accustomed to the routine. The only mystery is if I’ll find a pair of blue genes.

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