If you watch any sort of medical drama, eventually you will see an episode that revolves around a character who has lost a loved one to a terrible disease and then has to struggle over whether or not to find out if he/she too carries the gene responsible for causing the disease. In Grey’s Anatomy it’s the Alzheimer’s gene. In…a lot of other shows it’s Huntington’s. For me, it's Hashimoto’s Disease and Thyroid Cancer.
My Mother was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Disease when I was still in elementary school. For those of you who don’t know, Hashimoto’s is an auto-immune disease that attacks a person’s thyroid which then causes adverse effects on different parts of a person’s body. It went after my Mother’s thyroid function and her reproductive system, sending her into premature ovarian failure at the ripe old age of thirty three.
My Mother isn't the only woman in my family to have to deal with thyroid and reproductive issues. My maternal grandmother had (and beat) thyroid cancer. My paternal grandmother’s thyroid gland dissolved. My oldest female cousin needed fertility treatments before each of her children. 90% of the women in my family have developed some form of thyroid or reproductive issue.
Even so, and even though I've been tempted, I still haven’t gotten the test.
It isn't because I can’t afford it. If I wanted, I could call up my doctor tomorrow and schedule my blood draw. Still, I’m not sure I want to know (though I know I should).
Psychologists call this "avoidance coping" and, apparently, this behavior is at the root of most anxiety-based disorders. According to the pros, the best things I can do are learn to self soothe and to face my fear. In this case I guess the "fear" is knowing whether or not I’m prone to these diseases.
On the other hand, there is the psychology of "waiting." A few years ago, David Maister published a paper called The Psychology of Waiting in Lines. It turns out that waiting for something we are anticipating to happen actually causes us more stress. That stress is compounded if there is no "end date" to the waiting. According to these principles, the knowing that I’m going to be dealing with these things but not knowing when would be more traumatic than simply not knowing and hoping for the best.
So I’m choosing to wait and hope for the best. Why?
Because if I do have genetic markers for thyroid issues or Hashimoto's disease, there isn't a lot that I can do about it. It isn't like finding out will give me the opportunity to fight off these diseases before they have the ability to take hold. Hashimoto’s disease is auto-immune. I can’t fight it off, the best thing I can do is figure out the best way to deal with it if it shows up.
This is where I get twitchy. While it is relatively easy to treat (typically it can be treated with oral medication), it took my Mom years to get her hormones leveled out. Those were not fun years. She basically had a decade of constant and severe PMS. When I talked about this fear with my doctor he said that things move much faster now. He told me that doctors and clinics partner with companies like Millennium Labs genetic testing services to help specialize medical treatments for all sorts of issues ranging from physical to psychological and that medication can now be based on DNA evidence, which would require far less tweaking than the “trial and error” method my Mom had to deal with. This is comforting—you know, if I end up changing my mind about wanting to know.
And cancer…well…who wants to be staring down the cancer clock? We've written before on this site about the different things a person can do to prevent cancer. Science has proven over and over again, though, that cancer is wily. I can do all of the right things and still find myself fighting it.
So, for me—I’d rather not know. Otherwise every time I hiccup I’m going to wonder if I’m a few minutes away from hormone replacement therapy and cancer treatments. Who wants that?
What do you think? If you had the opportunity to find out that you were going to potentially have to deal with something later but not knowing when—would you want to know about it one way or the other?