Genetics: I Wonder

I just came across this article today, titled “Blue Eyed Humans Have a Single, Common Ancestor.”  I wonder about that person–if everyone that anyone knew had brown eyes, what did they make of his or her blue ones?  Was he or she treated as a freak?  As a holy person?  As just another person, but with pale eyes? Obviously he or she procreated, and so couldn’t have been a complete outcast.  What did having blue eyes mean to him or her?

Genetics have always been interesting to me–I remember learning about Mendel and recessive and dominant genes in grade school and trying to figure out the chart for my family.  My parents both have hazel eyes, and of the four of us kids, there were two brown-eyed and two blue-eyed.  It was fascinating how things got shuffled up with each of us–we were and are, all similar, but different.

Genetics became even more interesting when I found out that I carry one of the gene mutations that predisposed me to breast and ovarian cancer.  I have been obsessed for years with thinking of my grandmother, Ida, who had breast cancer but died when she was 41 and my father was only 12.  She mixed up the gene pool by choosing someone completely out of her family’s comfort zone.  She was the daughter of Jewish immigrants from Russia/ Lithuania, who came here with the great wave around the turn of the 20th century, and my grandfather’s family had come to America in the 1700s (we think).  It was an unusual match in the 1930s, and I’ve long wondered about the situation.  

But it’s certain that the cancer mutation came from her family.  After talking with my great-aunt a couple of weeks ago, to hear stories of the family that I’d never heard before, it seems that the cancer mutation must have come from my great-grandfather’s side–the Meyers–because she said that almost everyone in that family died of some kind of cancer.

What did having the genetic mutation mean to those that had it, generations ago?  Of course they didn’t know about it, specifically.  But they had to see the women in the family live to bear children, then die young, possibly before the children were grown.  Was that just the way things were to them?  Like meeting the only blue-eyed person anyone in the world had ever seen?   Were disease and death so common that they didn’t even notice it?  Did they feel like their bodies were ticking time bombs?  Or did they just not have the time to think about it?

I wonder.


2 thoughts on “Genetics: I Wonder

  1. JimH

    I often think about what society is supposed to do with the health knowledge being continually revealed by science. You write “what did having the genetic mutation mean to those that had it, generations ago? Of course they didn’t know about it, specifically”. The difficult question is, now that we know, what do we do? There are ethical issues everywhere, and I don’t know if we are ready.

    1. bbwesquire Post author

      I agree, Jim. I’ve always believed that knowledge is power, but the decisions are excruciating. Do I cut off a perfectly good body part(for right now) in exchange for reduced risk? It would be best to not have to make the decision at all–but we each have to deal with the circumstances we’re given. The best we can do, right now, with genetic predisposition to ovarian and breast cancer, is to test for the mutation, undergo more surveillance, or have risk-reducing surgery. It’s not perfect, but I’ll take it over dying slowly after having surgery without anesthesia. We’ve come a long way, but the treatments still seem barbaric.


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