Your reaction to chronic illness is literally coded in your DNA. Warrior or Worrier, your reaction is somewhat pre-determined. In our Chronic Life and Spoonie patient community there is sometimes a bit of rub: How come she always says this, and how can he do that if he really has this. Therein lies another rub: our susceptibility to living out our genetic profile is also influenced by diet, environment, and any schools of thought we adhere to as a matter of coping.
Heritability only explains part of the equation. Dr. Andrew J. Shatté, Ph.D., (Chief Science Officer, meQuilibrium) wrote on the Warriors vs. Worriers topic for the Huffington Post. He explains “why even the ‘tough’ need stress to rise to the occasion,” and how our brains process stress and those curveballs. We in the chronic community know what it feels like to suffer a direct hit.
I come from a long line of strong women. Turns out my DNA profile confirms that family lore, and my strength. For Christmas, David and I decided to do the Family Tree DNA Family Finder kit, and oh, how fun! My Viking heritage is confirmed by way of Norway, Denmark, Finland, and new to me, the Orkney Islands. Then there is my Native American Sioux heritage that no doubt brings more strength and resiliency.
Warrior Gene rs4680(G;G)
Aside from the obvious thrill of confirming your heritage, or finding ancestry from new corners of the globe, testing comes with an incredible possibility. Most any of the DNA testing services will provide the ability to download your entire DNA report. Simply upload your raw DNA files to Promethease, “a literature retrieval system that builds a personal DNA report based on connecting a file of DNA genotypes to the scientific findings cited in SNPedia.” For a nominal fee of $5, Promethease will anonymously match your profile across like genetic populations (see a sample report here). This service is available to researchers, healthcare providers, and any customer of DNA testing services. Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPs), indicate the precise position along a chromosome where the DNA of different people may vary. The website SNPedia functions as a gene-by-gene data base of current research for health and medical conditions. It is continually updated with new research.
In addition to predicting my blue eyes, my DNA speaks to my own health concerns and those of my children. Multiple times over, I have genes that indicate greater susceptibility for Spondyloarthropathy (likely my strong Scandinavian heritage). Unfortunately, this came to fruition in my daughter at age seven. Both David and I also have multiple genes associated with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, and both of our sons were diagnosed with Classical Ehlers-Danlos about three years ago. We also have random genes associated with “not specified” Dilated Cardiomyopathy, which struck our youngest son at just shy of his twenty-first birthday. I am confident that each of my children bears the warrior gene.
Since Rheumatoid Arthritis struck me nearly four years ago, I have wondered and reflected how well I handle it physically and emotionally. Do I fuss too much over pain, and how much am I able to separate mind and body from the pain process? Well, survey says: I’m a Warrior. rs4680 at position (G;G) indicates “higher pain threshold, better stress resiliency, albeit with a modest reduction in executive cognition performance under most conditions.” So, I have adapted well to my children having chronic diseases, and my own — though my grey matter takes a bit of a hit.
An unexpected finding, could be of huge importance: I am a carrier of Multiple Sclerosis, and the same rs3135391(C;T) gene is associated with Lupus (SLE). Most interesting, as I have had many Lupus-like overlap symptoms. Initially I was diagnosed with Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Disease, which is sometimes referred to as pre-Lupus. To see the SNPedia explanation of current data on rs3135391, click here. In addiction to medically relevant information, you can also learn handy factoids like the nature of your ear wax, reaction to coffee, or if you are a sprinter. I’m betting you already know these things.
Our reactions to chronic illness are individualized, and we must not criticize another for how we outwardly perceive their experience. Your reaction to stress, and your strength may not look like someone else’s. Worriers have warrior spirits, and warriors have worrier spirits, too. Trust me, some days this warrior is wrapped in fluff doing puzzles, watching House Hunters, and failing to accomplish needed tasks. Or most often, I live several levels of ability within a day. I may have a burst of energy and optimism — then painxhaustion, and I hit that wall where autoimmune suddenly envelopes me in a flu-like feeling. The point is, this warrior constantly fights within herself for strength. And we all do this, regardless of what our DNA says about us.
There is no right answer, and there is no wrong answer. We are human beings, and we are in these battles (and celebrations) together. That knowledge is really what keeps this warrior strong.