My Grandmother’s Check List

Convincing an 87 year old woman to spit into a tube might seem like a daunting task, but my Grandmother loved it. Sure it took her the better part of a morning to fill the tube and she somehow managed to do it an the most lady-like of ways, but she embraced the “assignment” with as much vigor as she could. You see my Grandmother is an awesome marriage of two kinds of geek: ancestry geek and science geek. When I told her that I wanted her to spit in a tube so that we could compare all of our DNA and learn about our family’s history THROUGH science she was thrilled.

But here is also where I tell you that my Grandmother has been battling Alzheimer’s for over seven years. And this is also where I share that it is a giant fear of both my Mother and myself that we will one day face our own battle with this horrible disease. In her lucid moments (and she was absolutely lucid the day we explained what 23andMe is and how she could participate) she also worries about what health ailments will be carried on. When speaking of her Alzheimer’s she is sad and angry.

When we got GM’s genotype results back Mother and I examined them differently than we examined our own results. For starters one of the main reasons why Mother and I were so keen on finding out so much information was so that we could begin preventative care where we saw necessary. We could research and study and be on the look out. In terms of GM’s results it was a bit of a check list, and possibly our way of verifying how “accurate” results could be.

Now I say “accurate” because just because your genes reveal a predisposition does not make it an actuality. But that is sort of what Mother and I were looking for. Just what did GM have in her genes and what, at 87, did she end up having to deal with.

The first thing we read were GM’s disease risks, and this is pretty interesting, of the two disease risks indicated GM has neither. HOWEVER, her children do. Within her traits we found several items that were absolutely true: GM does have brown eyes and she does have amazing muscle performance. The biggest, “oh wow she SO has that” moment was when we saw that GM was at a very elevated risk for ulcerative colitis. In fact GM did suffer with a very rare kind of colitis. It nearly killed her as it took YEARS to be diagnosed.

It was seeing that elevated risk that made Mother and I appreciate 23andMe more than we thought we could. If only…if only we had access to this information a decade ago. Maybe we could have spared all of the horrible years of pain and discomfort that GM faced while searching for her colitis diagnosis.

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