The other day I met with a genetic counselor. As I've mentioned previously, a cousin of mine informed me that she tested positive for the gene that is responsible for breast cancer. She sent me her test results, and when I mentioned this to my dad, he immediately responded, "oh yeah, my aunt died of breast cancer." Sigh.
My counselor turned out to be a nice lady with a pretty smile. She explained that if I did have the breast cancer gene, that increased my risk of other cancers showing up, such as colon cancer. (Her comment made me remember that, since I'm now 50, a colonoscopy was likely as a health screen. Because my brain just sort of zeroes in on these sorts of details.) The nurse had me fill out a few forms regarding my health, and then she drew a chart.
Squares were boys and circles were girls, and this was a family health tree. On it were indicated such things as who died of what disorder, and which family members had had which sort of cancers or other diseases. The counselor explained about genes and chromosomes, using some lovely color pictures. I'd been through the biology class lecture before, but a refresher never hurts.
Next came the test. I expected that there would be blood. Genetic testing involves genes and chromosomes, and that's not something that you can just phone in. So when the genetic counselor came in with a box, I was confused.
"No blood?" I asked.
"No blood," she replied. Instead, she pulled out a small graduated cylinder with a lid and a bottle of mouthwash. She explained that I would need to spit. In fact, I would need to fill up the graduated cylinder with spit. Spit and mouthwash. She opened the mouthwash for me, since my fingers limited my ability to do it myself. Then she left the room, because who likes to watch a person spit into a cup?
I poured some mouthwash in the little cup provided, and sat it on the table. I stared at it a few minutes. Truth be told, I would have rather given them a vial of blood. I'm not a big spitter. When other kids were having those spit for distance contests, I was elsewhere, because I was grossed out. Spit, and snot, just give me the flaming heebie-jeebies. Those two particular bodily fluids just make me cringe in horror, my stomach ready to rebel. My tolerance has improved over time, but I still don't like spitting. Now I was being asked to spit for science, so that I could find out some answers. Could I do it?
I thought that maybe could.
I threw that first mouthwash shot back like it was tequila. Then I swished it around as long as I could stand it, and spit it out into that graduated cylinder. I repeated the exercise, again. Then again. Then again. Geez, I thought. Will this stupid cylinder EVER fill up? I was reaching a critical mass of yuckitude, but finally the container was full. I was never so grateful to put the lid on a specimen cup! I sat back in my chair and had a moment to regain my equilibrium. Then I called to the genetic counselor, who came back into the room and labeled everything and put my spit cup into a box to be sent to a lab for analysis. The results should be back in a week or two, she said.
I was proud of myself, but if I don't have to spit into a cup again, anytime soon, I won't be upset. Not at all.