My Story: How My Passion for Holistic Care Uncovered the Cause of Cancer in My Family
I am from a small town in New Hampshire, a place where connections are valued and business is done on a handshake. It is also a place where an individual’s vision of the future can influence many lives.
I was born with asthma and struggled to find my way to good health. I was fortunate enough to have a mom who found value in yoga and suggested I take classes to learn how to breathe correctly. With breathing came mindfulness, and with this came clarity as to the direction I would take in my life. At the age of 13, I decided that I would become a health practitioner. I wanted to practice the art and science of medicine in a holistic fashion, assessing the whole person; the physical, emotional, and intellectual aspects.
I was on a quest to cure my asthma and, later, my twin sons’ asthma. At the same time, I wanted to discover why cancer had plagued my whole family. My mom was diagnosed with cancer at age 35, her sister at the age of 40, her mom at 50 years of age, and her grandmother in her 50’s. I wanted to do whatever I could to prevent my mom from having a re-occurrence. As I listened to other family members stories of illness, I put together a family tree, noting all those that had died and the diseases which took their life. The resulting genetic tree looked like a moth-eaten piece of fabric. During this time of discovery, I added not only my own sister, age 43, and my cousin, age 38, to the cancer tree, but countless other relatives as well. I knew that somewhere there was a common theme for most of the victims had colon or uterine cancer.
This realization resulted in my drive to figure out what was causing the cancer. Initially, I thought it could be just bad luck, a poor diet, contaminated water, birth control pills, or stress. I provided my mom a road map for good health through nutritional medicine. When she developed her second cancer, I was distraught. What was missing in her health care? What follow up care should she be receiving? Health care in a small town often lags behind large academic hospitals in metropolitan areas. Moreover, medicine was still being practiced in silos so that connections regarding familial illnesses were not being made.
My curiosity led me to The Personal Genome Project which was founded in 2005. It is dedicated to creating a public genome containing health and trait data. I was fortunate enough to be invited to be a participant and publicly share my personal data for the greater good - I would be a citizen scientist. I anxiously awaited my genome report. It did not show a gene for any cancer. I was new to the genomic world and thought perhaps the analysis wasn't accurate. It was around this same time my mom developed her 3rd cancer to which she finally succumbed. I felt strongly that this could have been prevented if we had more clinical data and a way to provide better screening. This cluster of cancers in our family could not merely be the result of bad luck.
Within that year my cousin and sister developed their second cancers. I requested that their tumors be genetically sequenced. The MLH1 gene, often referred to as Lynch Syndrome, was found and with it, the answer to my own personal quest. Lynch Syndrome leads to early onset uterine and colon cancer.
We now know the gene our family carried from generation to generation. The mystery behind the cancers that had taken many of my family members was now uncovered. I only wish my mother had known.
My journey has been a deeply personal one. It has inspired me to become a healthcare practitioner who thinks out of the box and continues to ask why in my search for answers. Furthermore, it has made me believe in my vision and has always kept me curious. One person’s vision can touch many lives.