Who am I?
This is a question I am lucky enough to have never asked myself, and I wasn’t surprised when my 23 & Me results came back as 99.8% European (I am Croatian after all). So why’d I do it? Pure curiosity. I was curious at how close the results would get to where I was born and who I know myself to be, and they were pretty damn close. Although I am still suspicious of the 0.2% Native American the tests claim me to be…
Funny enough, my parents bought the test for me for Christmas as a joke but ended up buying the slightly more expensive version that would reveal if I had an increased risk in getting any significant diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer's and other major ones.
Let’s rewind for a quick second. When I was in elementary school, my family found out that my dad’s mom had Alzheimer’s and thus started everyone’s downhill slide. Alzheimer’s doesn’t just affect its victim but, it tends to strain their entire support system. Because I was only about nine years old, I didn’t really understand how this disease attacks the brain and leaves its host lost and helpless. Growing up, I saw the changes in not only my grandma but the entire family. Her sons that did what they could to make the best of an impossible situation. Her daughters-in-law that were supportive but their patience was tried again and again. Her sisters that felt helpless and didn’t know what was next-though we never discussed it, how could they not think “Am I next?”. Her grandkids, nieces, and nephews who were quickly forgotten. Watching someone you know live with Alzheimer’s is a difficult and confusing thing to do, especially through puberty and when the person still looked “normal”.
Fast forward fifteen years from then, grandma had been moved to an assisted living center near her hometown in Bosnia and we were going to visit because we didn’t know how much time she had left. At this point, it had been a little less than ten years since I had last seen her and even more since we last spoke because I was among the first of the family she had forgotten like we never existed. Trust me, it’s not a great feeling to be forgotten and I always had a little resentment toward my grandma because of it (even though logically I knew she didn’t choose to live this life).
I wasn’t ready for what I saw next, but I will never forget it. The person in front of me was not my grandma. She looked more like a mummy than a human, couldn’t sit up, couldn’t speak, couldn’t eat, and didn’t recognize the world as it was around her. The way my dad looked at her shattered my heart into a thousand pieces. Never had I seen my dad, Mister Tough Guy, have so much sadness in his eyes knowing there was absolutely nothing he could do to help. That scene that lasted maybe five seconds seemed to last a lifetime and only ended when I started crying and walked out of the center. I will never forget that day. The smell of the center, the sight of my grandma and my dad sitting next to each other, and the odd freshness in the air since it had just rained and me later thinking “Holy shit. That could very well be me or my dad one day”.
A few months later, my dad’s mom died and the family, as bad as it may be to say it, finally was able to have closure and move on remembering her how she was in the beginning and not at the end.
Alzheimer’s is a nasty son of a bitch and wouldn’t wish it upon my worst enemy...that is exactly why I had to know if I had the gene. When my 23 & me results came in, I was nervous to find out the results and almost didn’t want to know because as we’ve heard before, ignorance is bliss. After a lot of back and forth with myself and a pros and cons list, I decided I had to know the results.
I do not have the Alzheimer’s gene. Like, at all. It isn’t there. I have never, and I mean, never been more relieved in my life.