My DNA Story

By Janet Prince

DNAI know you have all seen the ads on TV for the Ancestry.com and 23&Me DNA kits, especially over the holidays.  In 2017, I had some family members receive an Ancestry.com kit for Christmas. They took the test and sent off the vials in January 2018 hoping to learn more about their ancestry, where they came from, and when. When they received the results, they were surprised!  A first cousin we had no idea about was a very strong match above all others throughout our family.

This is where my DNA story began, but before I go in to what we found, I want to share how I feel about DNA testing and why I feel that way.  Keep in mind that everyone has their own opinion, and that must be respected.

As most of you know, I am a 16-year breast cancer survivor, and I lost my mother to ovarian cancer.  Both of us were diagnosed in 2003 just five months apart.  We met with a genetics counselor at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine in November 2003 and began building a genetic tree of our family members that had any type of cancer.  We were able to determine that the cancer line came from my grandmother’s family where we found breast, brain, lung, cervical, and ovarian cancer.  Taking this test was very important to both of us because of my two daughters.  I have always been a believer in knowing your health history, and I especially wanted my girls to know theirs as they became young women.  Since we did our testing, many new breast cancer genes have been identified, so I will be having an updated DNA test this spring.

 

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My belief in DNA testing is very strong.  By taking this DNA test, I was able to rest at ease knowing that neither my mother nor I carried the breast cancer genes BRCA1 or BRCA2.  In addition, the results were something that my family members could use.  They learned the history of aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, cousins, and children that had all been diagnosed with a type of cancer.  Everyone accepted the results of this test and never questioned if they were true.

Now knowing how I feel about DNA testing, I want to share the story of finding our new first cousin.  When my family members received their results, someone was at the top of the list (meaning they are your strongest match) who they didn’t know and had never heard of.  This person reached out to my family to see how they were related, and at first, my family members seemed thrilled to have a new cousin. When they called me with the news, they were excited to learn more and to hopefully meet her because as luck would have it, she has a step-sister who lives in the Upstate of South Carolina, and she was planning a trip there later in the spring. Since my mother died, I have been the keeper of the trunks that belonged to my uncle as well as one that belonged to my grandparents. Both trunks were filled with letters, postcards, and my uncle’s US Marine uniforms with all his medals.  My family asked if they could go through the trunks to verify the connection between my uncle and her mother.  I was more than happy to do this because I was curious to know the connection myself.

Last spring, our new cousin, Linda, traveled to South Carolina from Nevada, and I was so excited to meet her.  Linda came and spent an afternoon with me, and we went through the trunks.  We were elated when we found a note with her mother’s name and telephone number on it!  It was the confirmation she had been looking for all her life trying to find out where she came from.  She had found “home.”  I knew when I opened the front door that Linda was a part of my family.  We have the same cheeks, her mannerisms are much like my mother’s, and when I hugged her, it was like hugging my mother again.  She is definitely a member of my family.  After looking through the trunks, I took Linda to visit her father’s grave and was honored to share this moment with her.

While she was here, Gary and I had a cookout for my other family members to come and meet Linda and her “sister” Kathy (Linda has four step or half-sisters, but they only call themselves sisters not anything else).  We had a wonderful time and even FaceTimed with another sister of hers who lives in Texas and loves genealogy.  She started asking about other names on Linda’s tree that they didn’t know, and when she started calling out names of my great-aunts and second and third cousins in Alabama, it sealed in my heart that Linda was a member of my family.  We hugged, cried, and laughed with joy.  I look at Linda as a gift and another connection to my mother.

Unfortunately, only one of my cousins came to meet Linda that night, which broke my heart for her.  Their once excitement had turned into not believing in the validity of the testing, and therefore not accepting Linda as part of the family.

UncleLinda, who is my first cousin, was the daughter of an uncle I had who was killed in the Korean War in 1950 at the age of 21. Linda was born five months after his death.  Because my family members chose not to believe the results, I took the Ancestry.com test in June.  When my results came in, my family member who had originally taken the test were first, and Linda came up next followed by both of her children who are my second cousins.  I was so excited to verify that Linda is a part of us.

Linda and I have hours-long phone conversations sharing what our lives have been like.  Like me, Linda is a cancer survivor having been diagnosed with multiple-myeloma in November 2013.  Linda’s mother was killed in a car accident when she was only 9 years old, and I have told her that I believe with all my heart that if my mother and father had known about her, they would have brought her here and raised her as their own.

I don’t know why God brought Linda into my life at this stage in my life, but I am just so Familythankful that He did.  I was so happy to have Linda and Kathy attend Ashlan’s wedding, and seating them with the family was a great joy.  This was the first big “family” event Linda had been able to be a part of, and I wanted her to know how special she was to me and my family.  Knowing she was there brought much comfort to me, and I look forward to spending more time with her and getting to know all her sisters.

DNA matches can either bring big surprises or things you already knew about but with the deeper story.  I encourage everyone to take the DNA test of their choice if nothing more than to know their family health history.  Remember, this is information that can be passed down through the generations. Be prepared for secrets the test may uncover, and remember the person on the paper who you didn’t know about has feelings and deserves to be acknowledged.  Whether you want to build a personal relationship with that person is up to you, but be mindful of your actions because they can hurt someone.

Life After the Big D

By June Headley-Greenlaw

Statistics say that 40-50% of first marriages will end in divorce.  Unfortunately, I was part of that statistic.  I was married to the man I now jokingly refer to as my starter husband for nearly 20 years.  When that marriage expired, it was a very scary time in my life and the lives of my children.  I had been married since I was 20 years old and didn’t know what my identity would be outside of that marriage.  There was no abuse or anything else that you’d think would cause a divorce, we simply stopped loving each other the way married people should.

Our friends used to ask us how we had stayed married so long.  My then-husband used to reply that it was because we just never wanted a divorce at the same time.  It wasn’t because we never had hard times.  We did!  We were both going thru college while working and later raising children.  We struggled frequently.  We were both blessed with loving families and lots of friends.  We made it through – until we didn’t.  There just came the point in time when we no longer felt supported or loved by each other, and something told me it was time to start over.  I believed it was whispers from God.

I won’t tell you it was easy because that would be a big fat lie!  I moved into my best friend’s house for a few months and slept on what we now affectionately call “the divorce couch”.  She lived on the same street so the kids could walk back and forth.  I looked for a new home close to the one we owned so the kids, then 6 and 9, could be close to both of us.  I found one that was a foreclosure and needed a lot of work.  New carpet, new appliances, etc.  the house had 11 different colors on the walls from orange to black.  I vividly remember many friends and family members with rollers and brushes in their hands and my nearly 80-year-old Uncle taking up the carpet and hauling it outside.  But on Thanksgiving, all of those people had commitments.  Alone in this new empty house, I turned up the music and rolled and cried and rolled and cried.  The whole time praying that God would give me the strength to get through it and help me find a way to explain to my children that this was necessary.  I was determined to have a home IN ORDER by Christmas for the sake of my kids!

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Mom, baby girl child we share, Dad

I should tell you there were times when I thought my heart would just stop beating because it was so broken.  There were a lot of tears, sometimes anger, fear, and TONS of times when I questioned this decision.  Thankfully, my ex and I were both committed to not making this any worse than it had to be so we put on brave faces and marched thru the logistics of starting over.  We split the debt.  He kept the house with the equity, and I kept my retirement.  I took things from the house that he could easily live without and bought whatever else I needed.  On credit cards!  Ugh!  We even shared an attorney to keep costs down.  As divorces go, I think we might have had the cheapest one on the planet.  I strongly suggest that anyone going thru this think carefully before fighting.  The only people that win in these situations are the attorneys.  It’s much easier to buy new furniture than to hire a lawyer to fight over it.  You owe it to your kids not to sweat the small stuff.

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Dad, boychild we share, Mom

We made about the same amount of money, and we shared custody, so neither of us paid child support.  We never argued over switching weeks or days with the kids for vacations, family events or other fun activities that might have fallen on the other person’s time.  We both wanted what was best for our children.  I’m very proud of the way we handled those years.

The divorce was final 17 months after we filed.  I would have bet when we split up that I

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Bonus Mom, Dad, Baby Girl Child we share, Mom, Bonus Dad

would never remarry, but in a very short time, I met my do-over husband, and my affectionately called “wusband” met his do-over wife.  We were both remarried within five months of the divorce being final.  Those marriages are still going strong after ten years plus.  Fortunately, our kids were blessed with great “Bonus” parents and lots of new “Bonus” siblings.  I don’t use the word “step” because I think it insinuates some sort of distance between people.  A friend once told me that it’s always a bonus when you have another person to love you so we had a lot of bonuses in our new blended families!

While the statistics on second marriages are abysmal, we are all committed to beating those odds.  We have both thrived in our do-over marriages, and we still support our now college kids as a team.  All four of us!  I’m living proof that life after the Big D doesn’t have to be a horror show.  I credit my strong faith in God and a lot of commitment from all involved for carrying us thru such a challenging time.

 

In-Laws or Out-Laws?

By: Crissie Miller Kirby

I’m fortunate, today, to have a fabulous relationship with my mother-in-law and my father-in-law.

Wait, Crissie, aren’t you divorced?

The simple answer is “Yes.”  The more complex answer would be that when my marriage ended, only that relationship ended; my relationship with my children’s grandparents and other extended family members did not end.

I did not always have this great and wonderful relationship with my in-laws, however.  Going back 13 years, I’m sure that all of us could enumerate the many different things that irritated us about each other.  The long and the short of the situation, the problems were rooted in misunderstanding, miscommunication, and lack of communication regarding many different situations.  There is little reason to go back and place blame or to recount every single mistake and misstep made; all we can do is look at what we did to correct the situation, move forward, and live in peace and friendship.

The basis of this new relationship is honesty, open communication, and boundaries.

First, we are all honest that this relationship is not always easy.  There are differences in parenting that are created by our own pasts and typical generational differences.  Personality differences must be recognized and you have to accept that; accepting a personality trait does not mean that you take it on yourself, it simply means that you understand it and respect it.  There are also differences created simply by the dynamics of this relationship; my role as the parent and their role as the grandparent.  Parenting is and always has been different than “grandparenting;” much like the Las Vegas tag line, we all know that what happens at Mimi and Poppie’s stays at Mimi and Poppie’s.  Understanding this and just simply letting go of some of that parental structure and those finite rules and allowing some of those fun moments to occur can actually lead to less stress, relaxation, and great memories for your children.

Keeping the lines of communication open also goes a long way in making that in-law relationship much better.  And it goes further than just actually answering the phone when they call; I don’t just mean physical lines of communication.  Remembering that you are all human and are in this together, for better or worse, and are experiencing many of the same situations and emotions and then leaning on each other can help shore up shaky waters.  Often just opening yourself up once is enough to create a strong bond.  This is part of how my relationship has been strengthened with my mother in law; once I opened up in regards to certain issues and situations, I learned that some parts of my life were not so different than things she, herself, had experienced in her own past.  She is no longer a “Monster-in-Law” she is my mother-in-law and she is my friend; a person I can call on when I’m feeling down or need someone to read over a graduate school paper.  And I think that she feels somewhat the same way about me.

Lastly, create boundaries.  Everyone hears the word boundaries and immediately goes on the defensive, but we forget the old adage that “good fences make good neighbors;” this is also the case with relatives.  After my oldest son was born, I often felt like what I wanted no longer mattered, if my parents or my in-laws wanted to see the baby, they just stopped by or came up, regardless of our plans or desires.  Really what it amounted to was some poor planning, structure and lack of boundaries on all of our parts.  None of us recognized what the other group needed and wanted, and, in truth, deserved.  Now, if I go visit my in-laws, they recognize that I might want some time alone, to myself, or some time to just do something with the boys, alone, and even often, that I might want to spend some one on one time with my boys, individually. We work together to make all of those situations take place when desired.  But, I’m also keenly aware that they desire time with the boys as well.  They want to take them places and “show them off” and spoil them some.

We also try to make plans for holidays and special events well in advance so that all of our needs and desires are met the best they possibly can.  A few years back, I invited both my parents and my in-laws to my home on Christmas morning; however, I indicated to everyone that the door would not be opened until a specific time.  This was both for me and them.  It provided recognition that they wanted and deserved to see their grandchildren on Christmas morning, but yet protected my time with my sons on Christmas morning.  No one’s feelings were hurt or made to feel uncomfortable, and a good time was had by all because we took the necessary steps beforehand.

Will this type of structure work for every single family?  No.  However, the first step is to be honest with all parties.  Yes, it might mean sitting down and talking and this might, initially, be uncomfortable, but if the end result is more peace and harmony, with a slice of compromise thrown in, then it is worth it in the end.

In-laws or Out-laws?  Which would you rather have?  The choice truly is your own.