The Familial Legacy of RA

It is fairly common knowledge among most of us with RA that studies and research have shown a potential for genetic predisposition to RA within families.1 It is a fear that I can recall being very concerned about since I first heard of it, very early in my journey with RA. 

Did anyone in my family history have RA?

At first, I was curious if it had been in my own family history and was eager to sort that out. In my case, there seem to be no relatives that I know of who had it or, at least, were formally diagnosed. This group includes my parents, sibling, aunts, and uncles on both sides, etc. The only grandparent with any arthritis was my maternal grandmother but, if memory serves, hers’ was osteoarthritis, not rheumatoid.

My worry about passing RA on to my sons and their kids

My concern eventually moved beyond my own personal history and induced worry about my own sons and grandchildren. I live with that worry every day, as I believe many of us with RA do as well.

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When any of my sons have hip discomfort or shoulder pain, I hold my breath and pray that it resolves. One of my sons has some back issues, resulting from a football injury he sustained in college. Yet, anytime I see him and he is having a bout of spasms or discomfort, I find myself quizzing him on the circumstances. Does he have any swelling? Is he stiff in the morning? Any fatigue, brain fog, and on and on. I feel a flood of relief when these episodes pass but live in fear of the next time.

I don't want my family to know the pain of RA

It is yet another legacy of this disease. I don’t know about you, but I have not shared this worry with my sons. They are aware of the possible genetic connection to RA but, beyond that, they do not give it too much thought. I, on the other hand, live with that worry and, yes, guilt.

Managing my fears and guilt

Guilt comes from the simple knowledge that my disease could be passed to them purely because they have some of my genes! It frightens me and makes me feel like, somehow, I may have failed to protect them. I know intellectually that there is nothing I can do and that, like many other things that are passed genetically to our offspring, this is a risk that comes from the simple fact of birth. Yet, emotionally, I struggle with this because the potential that they could eventually know the pain and suffering of RA eats at my soul and worries me more than I care to confront.

Confronting my fears and emotions

So, how do we handle this along with all the burdens we carry? As with most of the issues we examine during our journey, this is yet another one to carefully and methodically confront. 

I have to say that once I realized it was emotionally challenging to consider the potential for my sons to end up with RA, I embraced the fear, and understood it was natural to feel this way. There is a sense of relief that comes with confronting our fears, putting them right up front in our minds. Then we can let that emotion wash over us, cleansing us in a way. When that fear creeps up now, I know it has visited before and that helps me to move beyond it, discussing it with a trusted person, or my care team.

I want my sons to confront their fears too

Sealing off those fears will only make them more intense, more out of control, and then they rule your life, not you. This is true across the board as we handle our disease management. I have learned, through time and experience, to confront my fears and this is a legacy I hope will be inherited by my sons.

Nan

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