Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Imagine the possibilities

I had to take my son for blood work this morning, at the urging of every doctor we've seen over the last month, to rule out his inheritance of the wacky lipid disorders and diabetes that his father has (and which all run rampant on his father's side of the family). Anyone who has held their child while a stranger sticks a giant needle in his/her arm know that this is horrendous. Sweet Boy was a trooper, though. Sure he cried, but he stayed still, rubbing his cheek against my cheek and sobbing, trying to sing along to "You Are My Sunshine" with me. I'm tearing up just writing this -- it was not fun.

Even more unfun than the blood draw, however, is the sickening, maddening, evil voice in the back of my brain that keeps whispering "Your baby has diabetes...your baby has diabetes..." He has no symptoms of diabetes, mind you, just these crappy genetics, so my rational brain keeps kicking the bad little voice in the crotch and telling it to shut the hell up. After all, 50% of his genes come from my side of the family -- the side that lives to be in their 90s chopping wood in the Maine winter -- but also the side that carries various cancers and heart disease and, oh yeah, diabetes. Shit.

A couple of years ago, I heard something in a radio news story that I cling to even now: By the time our children are in their 30s, they will not have to worry about cancer. This is how fast medical technology goes, even in an era of legislation that tries to stop it in its tracks. Isn't that awesome? Imagine it: Our children might birth their children in a world in which things like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease are merely items in textbooks. Kinda like chicken pox is now...remember chicken pox? We all had it, and probably have the scars to prove it. But thanks to modern medicine and vaccinations, our kids don't have to even think about that itchy, scabbing rash.

The cover story on this week's Time magazine centers on the scientists who have made breakthroughs in stem cell research over the last few years -- in the last few months! -- and offers great hope for those of us whose loved ones suffer from diabetes, Parkinson's, Alzheimers, and yes, even the Big C, cancer. I am amazed at what's possible, from treating a disease that's already in existence to discovering how a genetic disease starts in order to find a vaccine or cure. It's awesome, truly.

What's most interesting is that scientists have discovered a way to use any cell -- not just embryonic stem cells -- to move this technology forward. So in a way, as much as I hate to even utter these words, W's 2001 legislation that banned federal funding for embryonic stem cell research may have actually pushed the science toward an even bigger breakthrough. (Hmph, she mutters under her breath, he's still a monkey-faced boob!)

There's hope, people, regardless of what today's blood work shows. Always hope.

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