Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Guess Genes

My children and grandson do not have my genes.

Renae and I have the miraculous privilege of having adopted 3 children within weeks of their births. Today that would be a rarity indeed. And while they each may bear the mysterious genetic fingerprints of their unknown birth parents, the specter of Parkinson's is not embedded in their psyche or their physiology, as it is mine.

Why did I "get" Parkinson’s Disease? Anyone in similar circumstances would ask the same nagging question. “Why me?” It is one of the most common cries of human existence and experience. This are really several questions in one, each rooted in a different dimension of human curiosity: medical science, psychology and spiritual. As I think about it, maybe that two-word sentence is really the existentially defining question for us all. However, lest this humble blog become a treatise of too significant scope, it is only the first one that will concern me in this posting.

Of course, if those pathologists who study this fairly common disease (6 – 8 million patients worldwide, approx. 1 in 500) actually knew the answer to this haunting question, we would expect that the cure would be inevitable and imminent. And millions of us who live with PD would be celebrating like never before. But, like so many diseases, the answer seems to be complex. It is called “idiopathic”, which I might add is not the merger of ‘idiot’ and ‘pathetic’. It is the medical profession’s word for “cause unknown”. Despite having been identified by Dr. James Parkinson nearly a century ago (1817), only recently have significant strides been taken in the scientific world of “why”.

It appears that the root cause of PD is most likely an enigmatic equation of genetic predisposition/mutation and environmental event/exposure. At least in my case these two factors seem to collide like two meteors bearing my name, with the fallout being my own personal brand of PD. It would seem that there is some genetic defect that has found its way down the circuitous chain of my father’s ancestry, although this is speculation at best. On top of that, I grew up (to extent I have done so) in the orchards of the Coldstream Valley, outside Vernon, BC, where in my childhood was spent playing among the pesticides that were sprayed naively into the Spring air for all to inhale.

PD in my case seems to be like lung cancer to a person prewired to have a special sensitivity to second hand smoke. It resulted from the body’s genetic predisposition to easy absorption of toxins. At least that is my best guess.

So what if you are the child of a PD person? Sometimes it must feel like being tied to the railroad tracks with the train just round the corner.

First, as I suggested previously in my Grappling With The Ghost of 82 posting, you can’t dwell on the future or it will traumatize you. Second, the odds are still stacked heavily against hearing a verdict of ‘positively Parkinson’s’. Even if the genetic and environmental stars align, chances are you will not have PD. And thirdly, even if the PD diagnosis comes, you can live with this challenge, like so many others do. It could be worse, right? We can accept without fear the perils that may present themselves in the days or years ahead, and still live fully productive and even joyful lives. Is there a better alternative?

Below is a 4 generations photo: my father-in-law, Louie, my son, Adam, and me with my grandson, Patrick.

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