Tuesday, August 10, 2021

One Family's Cancer History

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Health, Medicine, Society, History of Science, Nature of Science

Ed Hessler

Why would someone note the occasion of being 69 and 30 days old? On that day, July 10, 2021, Writer Lawrence Ingrassia paid particular attention because he "became the longest living member of his family." His mother, a brother and two sisters all died from different types of cancer while his father died from another cause. The average life span of his family was 45.

Of course he and surviving family members wondered about the cause. At first, they thought it might be something toxic his father brought home from work. He was a researcher in the wood products industry. 

During treatment for cancer, his brother had a percipient and knowlegeable oncologist who suggested a genetic test. He thought it might be a rare condition known as Li-Fraumeni syndrome. The report began at top "in capital letters: RESULT POSITIVE -  CLINICALLY SIGNIFICANT MUTATION IDENTIFIED."  It could not have been blunter and clearer.

In an essay in STAT, Ingrassia, who is working on a book about epidemiologists Frederick Li and Joseph Fraumeni, Jr., recounts his experience with this insidious cancer and the difficulties Li and Fraumeni had in convincing scientists and clinicians in accepting their research. Clinical and family history research--does it run in families?--is always fraught with questions of sufficient eficence. In the book Ingrassia intertwines "their journey with the parallel story of my family as we puzzled over the cause of our many cancers." 

So what did Ingrassia do on that day? He "chose to something just a little bit wacky.... For them, and for me. For us. Because they couldn't."

An essay well worth reading. He does tell us what he considered doing and what he finally chose.

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