Thursday, April 14, 2011

Genetically Speaking.....

On Friday, April 8, Multiple Myeloma claimed another victim with the death of Edward Jay Phillips. Mr. Phillips, 66, had battled MM for nine years and was a Board Member of the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (MMRF). Mr. Phillips was the son of Pauline (Dear Abby) and Mort Phillips.

The irony was that Mr. Phillips was the nephew of  Eppie Lederer (Ann Landers), his mother's twin sister. Ann Landers passed away, with Multiple Myeloma, in June, 2002 only six months after she was diagnosed. She might have lived longer had she chosen to receive treatment. However, in 2002 a new chemotherapy drug, Thalidomide, had just been approved by the FDA. This drug had been used for 'morning sickness' in the 1950s, and had been tied to birth defects. It was found that it could slow the growth of Multiple Myeloma, and was predicted to give the patient one or two additional years, but with side-effects.

How often is cancer passed down, via genes, from one family member to another? On the paternal side of my family, one aunt died from Multiple Myeloma (no relation to my honey); and of twenty-two first cousins there have been seven deaths - six from cancer. Two cousins are cancer survivors.

Of the six deaths:

Breast cancer - 1
Colon Cancer - 2
Glioblastomas- 2
Prostate Cancer -1

My father came from a family of eight children - evenly split between four boys and four girls.  All of the deaths, except one, were the children of three of his sisters. One sister lost her only two sons, one year apart, to Glioblastomas; one sister lost one son to colon cancer, one to prostate cancer, and her daughter is a cervical cancer survivor. The cousin that died from breast cancer had a daughter die from the same disease.

There were various types of cancers, in our family, but were they somehow genetically linked? Why were most of the deaths linked to the children of my father's sisters? What would have caused two brothers to have the same type of malignant brain tumors? What, if anything, links Jay Phillips to his mother's twin sister?

DNA holds many of the clues within our bodies and is currently being used to search for better therapies for treating MM

Perhaps, sometime in the future, more will be known if cancer is linked from generation to generation, family member to family member. When this is done, perhaps there will be a way to break the link.....find a cure. Dreaming? Maybe........but we only succeed when we aim high.


  1. My husband has no cancer in his family. My mother's father lived to 96 after smoking 2 packs a day for 40 years. He decided to quit at age 72. But his wife, his son, and my mother died from cancer related illnesses. Go figure. I think that while you might be genetically predisposed, there are things you can do to help offset cancer's opportunity. But we are surely exposed to many things in our daily lives that in and of themselves are not a 'risk', but I wish someone(s) would do a study on if we are exposed to many things that by themselves aren't risky, combined, they are quite unhelpful.

  2. Lori: My mother and father both smoked ....and although my brother and I never smoked, we were exposed to second-hand smoke, all our lives. He (brother) had Squamous Cell Carcinoma (throat cancer), and thankfully is a survivor.

    There were various types of cancer in Bob's extended family - though no MM, to my knowledge. I've never seen genetics mentioned with regard to MM.

    I, too, would love to see a study on the occupations, environments, etc. of MM patients. I think it might be very interesting.

  3. I know that there a few families where more than one member has MM and the researchers are quite interested in them. I met one whose husband had it and now her daughter. That's a pretty close relationship in that it is in the nuclear family. Of course Little Rock does the DNA Gene Array analysis of all MM patients and they share the tissue with NCI in Bethesda as part of research. They are looking for a genetic component but haven't found anything definitive yet.

  4. There has been lots of cancer in my family - from both my mom and dad's sides of the family...

    No history of anyone in any side of our family every having Multiple Myeloma. I don't know how Tanner came up with such a disease at the age of 17...

    Sometimes there's just no explantation.

  5. Angie: And that's what I'd like....

    First: a cure
    Second: an explanation

    Or, maybe it'll have to be the other way around.

    When I "found" Tanner...I was just crushed that someone, as young as he is, could have MM.