Learning About My Genetic History

I'll be honest, a few days after my mom was diagnosed with cancer 2 weeks ago, I started freaking out. My dad's mom had the same type of breast cancer as my mom so I started psyching myself out, worrying that maybe they both had a genetic predisposition to that type of breast cancer.  And I was scared that my boobs were going to suddenly turn against me and fill me up with cancer.  Yea, I have a very active imagination so things have not been so easy for me the last few weeks.
I called my dad and asked if my mom could get a genetic test at the hospital to see if she has a genetic trait that makes me more likely for me to get breast cancer.  He said that it would be literally thousands of dollars to get it done at the hospital.  But he said 23andMe offers that same test along with a ton of other tests for you DNA for $99.  Don't worry kids, this ain't a scam.  This is for real!

I decided to go ahead and do 23andMe because it is a lot more fun way of learning about your genetic history than just freaking out about whether or not I have a genetic predisposition to breast cancer.  I am actually kind of obsessed with family history.  My mom did genealogy for others while we lived in England and she and my dad have done extensive research on my own family's history.  My parents have already each done a DNA test to learn about their racial history and they found out some amazing things.  My mom knew she was a mixture of European things, mostly English and French.  But her mom was very tan with coarse jet black hair and deep brown eyes so she always wondered if maybe she was part Native American.  She found out that actually she is 1/8 Sub Saharan African!  My dad knew he was 1/8 Cherokee and a mixture or English & Norwegian.  But he didn't know he was more Jewish that he is Cherokee, and he is a tiny bit Macedonian, Indian, Pakistani, and Gypsy!  Seriously, what?  So I guess I am basically a mixture of the world minus Asia, sorry Asia.  My parents actually know that one of our ancestors was born on the Mayflower!  So I guess we are pretty hardcore example of how America really is an amalgamation of so many different types of people.  I really love that about my family history.

My dad's side of the family has a lot of problems with Auto Immune Diseases.  And what's interesting learning about genetic history is that Auto Immune Diseases are very common for people who are genetically Jewish.  It makes more sense now that he knows he is more Jewish than anything else genetically.  I actually had a freak out moment in college when I found out I was so mixed racially, not because I was racist or something, but because I became really curious and overwhelmed with how to define myself racially.  I was pissed off that just because my skin is pale, I am "supposed" to mark myself as Caucasian on forms.  I didn't and still don't feel like I am just "White," I feel like a beautiful rainbow of my family's history.  At the time, I was already still dealing with the fact that I was raised as a British person in England until I was 8 so my personality even in college more suited English culture.  But my passort says I am American and my parents are American, and by college I had lived in the US longer than England.  Even at 21 I was still searching for who I was culturally & racially because of the genetic discoveries and because of being raised in a different culture where I identified as being OF that culture.  I actually wrote a song about being lost as to who I was culturally & racially in college which you can listen to here.  (I used to be a musician, if you didn't know :)

Perhaps because that type of questioning of who I am has played such an enormous role in my life, I now am feeling that same intensity of curiosity & questioning when it comes to my genetic health predispositions.  Blame my curious spirit.  For me, when I learn anything new or start to delve into a subject deeper, I always feel a deeper sense of mystery and peace at the same time.  I feel comforted when I know that things are more complex than I first realized, I feel more at peace when I recognize things are not straightforward or simply answered through delving deeper.  So because of this, I really want to get my DNA tested through 23andMe.  Learning more about myself genetically will give a few answers but will open up even more questions and that makes me feel more at peace with the complexity of my body and my health.  I am excited. :)

Have you ever thought about getting a DNA test to learn more about your inherited traits, your ethnicity, or anything else?  If you are adopted and are really curious & excited about learning more about your genetic history, I think this could be so amazing and interesting.  Let me know if you have done a DNA test like this!  My parents did this test through National Geographic a few years ago to learn about their racial history.  With both the National Geographic test and 23andMe you can even find out if you are descended from Neanderthals! So amazing!


Kara Monroe said...

My mom has Parkinson's disease and I, like you, was scared to death that my own genetic material was going to turn against me later in life and cause me to have uncontrollable tremors and pain like she does. So, I also decided to get tested by 23andme about six months ago. I can't say that I necessarily am any less anxious about Parkinson's (my risk is higher than average), but I am also considering having my folks tested just to see if my mom's level is different than mine. I find the other things you learn on 23andme to be what draws me back. For instance, my muscle performance is unlikely to ever allow me to be a sprinter (so true - I'm at best a slow walker) and I have a normal photic sneeze response (the tendency to sneeze when you move from darker areas into bright sunlight). I could read this stuff all day.

Angie Thompson said...

So exciting! It's encouraging to hear of a genetic test that won't break the bank!

This post resonates with me, especially when you said that you get pissed off having to check "Caucasian" on forms - ME TOO. Never in my life would I call myself Caucasian, so being forced to identify that way on paper feels like imprisonment (dramatic? sry).

I know that I have boatloads of Cherokee and Black Foot in my veins, but I've never been able to claim how MUCH... it would be nice to be able to say with confidence "I am 1/16 black foot..." (or whatever it will be). I will probably check out this test. Thanks Moorea!

Ruth Reyes-Loiacano said...

Ok, first and foremost. You have talent mama and your song is amazing!
And secondly, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer 2 years ago, approximately 2 week before I graduated college and was moving to Texas! She has since beaten cancer, but it was tough time...And having all of those life events happening at once was a bit overwhelming. I will keep your family in my prayers.
On the other hand, I would love to take this DNA test, so thanks for sharing it with us. I do not know who my biological father is and ever time I go to the Doctor and they ask if I have a history of XYZ, I say "I don't know!" I also do not know what nationality he was, so it should be interesting to find out!!! I can really relate to this....So, thanks again... your rock! -Ruth-

Chloe Moon said...

I have never thought about doing a DNA test...I know I'm Italian, German, Dominican, & part Panama-American Indian but it must be so interesting knowing where else!!

Audrey - This Little Street said...

There's actually research being conducted here in NYC for the breast cancer gene, and I am going to take it as soon as my mom gets her results in April (it takes FOREVER to get results back to you in France, but the testing is free so....). I have the same obsessions as you about my boobs. so afraid they are going to fill with cancer all of a sudden. Can't wait to do the test. I hadn't heard of 23 and me but definitely sounds interesting!!

Suzanne said...

I find this all super fascinating!
When I was in high school I traced back my family tree (on my father's side) back a few generations and basically as soon as I saw that a lot of my family came from France I pretty much decided I was Parisian and never looked back. Ha!
I really like the idea of a DNA test, especially for the medical side of things. Thanks for sharing this!

Jaclyn said...

I have absolutely thought about this. I have an autistic brother, and I've always wondered if I carry a gene. It was a helluva decision to make, but I decided, no, I don't want to know. A) I don't want kids, so I don't have to worry about passing it on and B) if it came back that I DID carry a gene, I would feel defective. And I know I wouldn't be able to logic my way out of that feeling, no matter how silly I recognize it would be.

Mandey Ejiasi said...

I have ALWAYS wondered about this kind of thing, about finding out genetic predispositions and whatnot. My family is super into genealogy, my great grandpa having books and books he'd written on family history. Unfortunately, all of that family history isn't genetically mine as it's on my dad's side (my adoptive dad) as I don't know my biological father. I've always wondered about my own ancestry and if there is any genetic information I'd like to know about (as I can't really tell my doctors all of my history).

I was on ancestry.com for awhile searching through records and found actual pictures of my great, great grandma Amanda (who I was named after) who also had twins like me. Of all the family members, I found the most photos of her!

Anyways, I'm 100% going to do this. I had no idea there were cheap, legit ways to get this stuff tested!

brittany - moccasin run said...

This is such a cool idea. I would love to find out more about my family history, and for only $99 it's a pretty good deal!

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Roots and Feathers said...

moorea! please let me know how this goes and what you find out. my aunt was telling me about the testing, the one that is thousands of dollars... we were thinking of doing something like that since my nanna had breast cancer the same age my mom was when she got it. and both me and my aunt feel we might be pre-destined for it. when i found out my mom got cancer, i freaked out the same way you did. i radically changed my diet for about a year or two. but then i lost so much weight it was scary. over time, i sort of just got over being scared. but it never fully escapes my mind. i worry if i get too stressed or dont eat right im going to get it. my brother does too. he got sick last week and had pain in his side and got himself all worked up thinking he had some sort of cancer. i think it just got in our heads after losing our mom to cancer. its a scary thing. anyway, this sounds great and id love to know how it goes for you. and p.s. i love your mind. i love the way your brain works. xo

Brenda Wilkerson said...

This is really interesting! Both the test and your family history. Thanks for sharing. I'm a quarter Jewish and autoimmune problems are rampant in my extended family. Now I know why!

Kira said...

I had not heard of this company before. This is really great. I have a friend with multiple relatives who have gotten breast cancer at a young age. Her insurance won't cover mammograms for her because she is too young although you are supposed to start getting them 10 years before your youngest relative who had it. She is a couple years past that mark. She and her husband haven't had kids yet because she is too afraid of having a girl and passing the breast cancer along to her. I wonder if this test would help either put her mind at ease or let her know how important regular testing really is for her.

Moorea Seal said...

I think all of that stuff is SO interesting! Did you opt into allow your results to be used in further research? I think am super excited about that opportunity to be a part of scientific research. If anything research about my weird body can contribute to something good or insightful for someone else, that just makes me so excited!
I hope your worries subside about the things you know you carry genetically. Be joyful that those things remain dormant right now and that you are able to fully enjoy and embrace life right now. In time if you ever do experience symtoms of Parkinsons, you can hopefully just be grateful that you knew ahead of time that you had a chance of it happening and you took advantage of what you had before so you could still celebrate all that you are in the future but in new ways.
lots of love.
xo Moorea

Moorea Seal said...

Oh man you should totally do it! I have always felt so inspired and connected to my Cherokee heritage. I feel SO proud of my great grandfather for all he did during the early 1900s as a Native American man in the face of discrimination and adversity. It means so much to know about all of my genetic history because I want to be proud of every single different person in my family, honoring them for their accomplishments and their struggles. The racism we see now is still awful. But in just 1 and 2 generations ago, racism was even a part of the law. And I just want to celebrate the love that is in my family with all of it's racial diversity, love in the face of laws that told them they should not love one another.
xo Moorea

Moorea Seal said...

Thank you!

Ooh you should totally do 23andme! I'm sure it would just be amazing to learn about the elements of you that you do not yet know because of your biological father. It's just so helpful to be able to tell your doctor, ok, here is what I know about my body. I know nothing about my mom's family because she has no siblings and had terrible parents who both passed away when she was in high school. she rarely talks about them. so understanding my body's genetic through genetic study, I know will both help me accept and feel connected to those I do not know in my family. And will just help when I worry about what my body will do in the future.
let me know if you do the genetic testing! I think it could be amazing. Even just to learn about the nationality of your bio dad, that gives you a whole new opportunity to connect to a new community and nation of people! So amazing.
xo Moorea

Moorea Seal said...

Totally! I mean, my parents are hardcore into genealogy. But they didn't even know that they had African and Jewish genetics, and those are the 2 largest ethnicities in our mixes! So crazy!
xo Moorea

Moorea Seal said...

Oh awesome! Well keep me posted on yours and your mom's results from that testing! I am sure it will be fascinating. I will of course be updating everyone on my blog once I get my results back!
xo Moorea

Moorea Seal said...

Hahaha that is so awesome :) I also was really excited when my mom's testing found that she was part french. I was like, see THATS why I took french instead of spanish in high school. It's in my genes! :)
Have you ever been to france?
xo Moorea

Moorea Seal said...

Aw, sweet girl. I hope that you trust you would NOT be defective in anyway if you did carry that gene. The thing is that all of our ancestors carry genes that are both passive and pretty serious. Every family has certain genes that run big risks of big hardships. But the value of that person who does inherit that gene is not depleted just because genetics did their thing. One of my best friends doesn't want to have kids because he feels like all of the effed up genes in his family should not be passed onto his kids. But the sad thing about that is that there are still SO many wonderful things about his genes and him as a person that would be amazing when passed on to another person. The few hard things about genes and what we cannot avoid do not trump the beautiful things we inherit.
Lots of love to you Jaclyn <3
xo Moorea

Moorea Seal said...

Ooh! Oh man, your history sounds like it would be amazing to uncover! That is fascinating too learning about how twins can kind of run in a family! No twins my family to be seen but I was SO hoping for twins when I was little, daydreaming about being a mommy someday :) Let me know if you take it and what results you get back!
xo Moorea

Moorea Seal said...

Right? Totally worth the price!
xo Moorea

Moorea Seal said...

Oh man, i think it would be SO worth it for you to get a 23andme test. I know it will be so eye opening for me at least and helpful when I have all that info so I can talk to my doctor about it. Let me know if you do it!
xo Moorea

Moorea Seal said...

Yep, autoimmune disorders are just so so so common for people who some Jewish blood! One of my good friends is 100% Jewish and he has a toooon of the same problems with his body as I do mine! Genetics are just crazy!
xo Moorea

Moorea Seal said...

Absolutely!!!! I am sure it would be helpful for her to take the test. And Also therapy would be good, I know it has helped me a LOT with plenty of my own worries! It's hard to accept that you could carry something negative that could be passed on to your own children. But it is hard to remember that just about everyone in the world will pass something hard onto their children. We've got to focus on all the great and good things we will ALSO pass on to the next generation, but it's hard to remember that when you just want to protect those you love rom your own hardships.
xo Moorea

Shannon Henszel said...

I didn't know this type of test existed! I'm adopted and while I know who my biological family is, they aren't sure of their own history. I would love to try something like this. Do you know if it's available worldwide?

Shannon Henszel said...

Ooh I found the answer - and it is yes! They do ship Internationally! Hooray!!