Friday, December 22, 2006

The Hand We're Dealt

There's a paper in the December 21 issue of Blood: Journal of the American Society of Hematology titled Family history of hematopoietic malignancies and risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. They're looking at the role for genetic susceptibility in non-Hodgkin lymphomas, which is what I have.

One finding reported in that article really flew out and slugged me in the gut: "If a first-degree relative had leukemia, NHL risk was highest among women who reported a sister with leukemia."

I had a sister who died of leukemia. Her name was Martha.

This was back in the days when childhood leukemia was a 100% certain death sentence. Martha died on February 12th, 1954, a few weeks after her seventh birthday. I was not quite three months old.

So. Genetics. I never smoked. I always exercised. I ate organic broccoli sprouts and drank gallons of green tea. Cancer got me anyway. I know that some people look at cases like mine as an excuse to justify their own unhealthy lifestyle choices. Why bother? If cancer is already in the cards you're pretty much doomed anyway.

But I am sure of two things. One, my high level of health and fitness has helped me withstand the rigors of fighting this aggressive disease. For instance, without my good MUGA score, I wouldn't have been a candidate for the most effective treatment regimen.

And two, the odds of surviving my type of lymphoma have increased dramatically in the last five years due to the recent introduction of monoclonal antibody wonder drugs such as Rituxan. Every year my healthy lifestyle may have held the cancer at bay has significantly increased my chance of being cured. If lymphoma had caught up with me ten years ago, I would have faced a much bleaker itinerary.

Poor Martha. If leukemia had caught up with her fifty years later, she might still be alive. I was too young to know her, and every year that passes there are fewer people left who remember her. I've often wondered who she would have been, what it would have been like to be sisters with her. When my parents died, I salvaged a box of her pictures and papers, the things they'd saved to keep her memory alive. At some point there won't be anybody left who cares enough to keep these things. But for now, they're safe with me.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


2:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you think...Finn has her eyes?

3:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a sweet sad memory. You honor your sister by writing about here here, and now there are a lot more people who will remember her and care.

2:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Some eggs are blue". I think my heart has broken.

3:32 AM  
Blogger Trasi said...

I just look at her and want to know her. What a sweet little soul.
You know, I always shake my head when people say "why bother" to living a healthy lifestyle. Just so you won't get cancer and die? I think living a healthy lifestyle enriches the time we're actually LIVING, so that we enjoy it much more. It releases a lot of worries and things which drag upon us, regardless of whether or not it is an "insurance policy" against terminal disease. That's a pet peeve. You go, woman. Sounds like you have led a lovely, healthy, enriching, colorful, beautiful life and enjoyed the SHIT out of it while you have. May you be blessed with many more years of it.

3:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's very interesting about the genetic link.

(And good for you for knowing you should still eat your broccoli.)

10:57 PM  
Blogger imfunnytoo said...

It's not just the cards, as you've clearly said....

it's how the entire hand is played.

While I'm not best on healthy choices, I can say that the odds were against me and lymphoma missed. Good choices can provoke your body into doing the right stuff, I imagine.

12:23 PM  

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