When I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, I was totally shocked. Not only because I was unprepared for a life altering disease, but because as far as I knew no one in my family had ever had diabetes of any kind.
At first I thought that it was simply not a hereditary disease and that anyone lucky enough could join this club. But as I learned more, read more about type 1 diabetes and met more and more people with diabetes, I learned that there is a hereditary component. Many people diagnosed with type 1 diabetes have relatives with it too. But not me.
Since my diagnosis I have answered many questionnaires, filled out forms and told people that no one else in my family has type 1 diabetes.
I believed this to be true until last week. Then…
Last Tuesday I woke up, did my usual rounds and sat down to check my email. Among the emails sent through ASweetLife I found:
I am your cousin. I have been trying to locate you for years. Amazing that this is how I found you. Your dad’s sister… was a type 1 diabetic…
I was stunned. Completely. I was so shocked and thrown I wondered if someone was fucking with me. It was too unreal to be true.
“Jess, Jess, come here quick,” I shouted across the apartment. “You have to see this.”
“What is it?” Jess replied.
Jess looked at my computer screen. “Is this a joke?” she said.
It was not.
My father died of Hodgkin’s disease when I was five years old. My mother did not know my father’s family very well and did not keep in touch after we moved to Israel. Culturally, my parents were very different. My father was Irish Catholic, my mother Jewish.
I don’t know why the two sides of my family lost contact, or didn’t try to stay in touch. I grew up knowing only my mother’s side of my family – their history, religion and diseases.
To say the least, receiving the message from my cousin was very emotional for me, and for many reasons. The knowledge that I wasn’t the first in my family to be diagnosed with type 1 diabetes allows me to erase one of the big question marks in my life.
I had always searched for a diabetes connection on my mother’s side of the family, the side I knew, but it never occurred to me that it could come from the other side, that diabetes could be part of my Irish heritage. It has always been as if that part of me wasn’t real. Genetics, I suppose, hold all the answers. If only we understood them better.
I wrote back to my cousin, of course, and asked many questions including some about my aunt. Like me, she was diagnosed as an adult. This little bit of information is so important to me. I often worry about my children getting type 1 and although family history could mean higher probability, I find it comforting that both my aunt and I were diagnosed as adults and not as children. I know of course that the rules of how this works are very unclear, but still it comforts me.
I am overwhelmed right now, and so grateful to my cousin for putting in the effort to find me. I know it wasn’t easy. Now, between the shock, the excitement of finding a whole new family, and revisiting the loss of my father, I pretty much feel like I can’t deal. So, slowly but surely I guess. As all of this comes together I will learn about my father, something I have wished for all my life.