Note: This blog piece has been submitted Margaret Black. Margaret is an HD family member and is sharing her experience finding out about having HD in her family. Thank you to Margaret for sharing this with us.
A Reason, A Season Or A Lifetime
I can’t remember who told me, but someone once said that things, or people, come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. I wasn’t exactly sure what they meant at the time, but it all started to make sense many years later.
My earliest memory was around age three, at my Granny’s house, Teviot, where I spent most of my childhood. As a child, I completely accepted that Granny Maisie was the dominant character, running the house, maintaining a large garden, and being the “go-to” figure for all family decisions. She was the much-loved matriarch of the family. My Grandpa was clearly in poor health, I only ever remember him sitting in his armchair; twisted and fidgety. He seemed uncomfortable, with a dark kind of sadness across his face, which lifted when he saw me. He would make an effort to smile. In the afternoons, Granny would read to me from my comic, the Twinkle. My favourite story was about Nurse Nancy and Dr Jingle. Granny suggested that I could be Nurse Nancy to Grandpa, and therefore I started helping him with little everyday tasks. For the next three years, I was proud to be the person helping with my Grandpa’s food tray, bib and feeding cup, in my role as Nurse Nancy. In March 1973, my Grandpa passed away, five days before my seventh birthday, leaving my Granny and his four children devastated. None of the family were aware that Granny was also harbouring a family secret, which would emerge many years later and effectively ruin the lives of every one of Grandpa’s children and grandchildren.
In October 1996, at age thirty, I finally learned the family secret. I had been born into a “Huntington’s family”. At the time, my mother described it as ‘Huntington’s chorea’, a name which changed over the years to Huntington’s disease (HD). I personally think the chorea part of the name is more appropriate, representing the jerking movements of the patient. Disease suggests to me something that you catch; involving tablets, medication and a possible cure. I soon realised that there is no cure for Huntington’s disease; treatment is limited, varied, inconsistent and often controversial- making diagnosis a bitter pill to swallow.
There is no rhyme or reason as to why Huntington’s strikes, and continues to strike generation after generation. Each child with an affected parent lives with a 50:50 risk of developing the disease.
To me it felt like a death sentence, which hung over me and clouded my judgement for the next seventeen years.
A chance meeting, an inquisitive mind, a desire to learn more and to help others in my family brought me into contact with a Huntington’s specialist. Over a period of years, my “season”, a special rapport was built up, and conversations took place that only she and I totally understood.
The testing process, uncertainty, positive results, negative results, impact on future generations, guilt, frustration, tears…
A life sentence.