I have one sibling. My sister and I are almost 10 years apart. Growing up, we weren't all that close because our lives were so different. When she was five and I was 14, the last thing I wanted was my little sister hanging out with my friends and I.
But now that she's in college and I am in graduate school, we are a lot closer. While we still are at different stages of our lives, we understand each other better than we did when we were younger.
When I first got sick, I was 22 and my sister was 13. She didn't really understand what was happening, and she didn't really get included because she was still so young.
After being on Prednisone for awhile, I got the tell-tale "moon face". My sister told me I looked like I had boobs on my cheeks. More than anything, that comment brought levity to the situation. It would have been taken differently had my sister been older, but because she wasn't; the comment was somewhat endearing, even though I was sensitive about how I looked.
And this is something that is characteristic of my relationship with my sister. She is the laughter through the tears.
As she's gotten older, my sister has come to understand more about my illnesses and how they impact my daily life. She even wrote a guest post for my blog.
But there's a thought that lingers in the back of my mind that I really don't like. Will she one day call me and tell me that she's been diagnosed with lupus or RA?
I love my sister dearly and would never want to cause her pain.
Several years ago, one of my good friends suggested that my sister get tested to see if she may have either of these illnesses but not yet be symptomatic. I downright refused this idea. Why make her worry about something that may never be an issue for her? Why make her become paranoid that every time she has an ache or pain that she attributes it to lupus or RA?
This is truly a difficult subject for me to discuss because it is so loaded. And because a genetic component is suspected in both lupus and RA, but is not well-understood.
According to The American College of Rheumatology, "Frequently, multiple and different autoimmune diseases are observed in the same families. For example, 11 percent of SLE patients have one other relative with an autoimmune disease in their family, indicating these diseases may share some of the same susceptibility genes" (http://www.rheumatology.org/practice/ clinical/patients/diseases_and_conditions/heredity.asp).
My (our) Dad has Crohn's Disease - which he was diagnosed with at the age of 18 - although it has been in remission for many years. This may point to the fact that autoimmune diseases run in our family.
I realize that if my sister does get diagnosed with lupus, RA, or some other autoimmune disease one day, that it's not my fault. But it's a hard thing to think about.
I want us to have the maximum amount of time together, and to know that one day she might be my only family, makes me want to maximize that time even more. I don't want my sister to be robbed of her twenties because she wakes up one morning to a body and a life forever changed. I don't want her to be forced to grow up in one second, forced to brave a whole different world.
I want her to go on to medical school or nursing school or PA school, or whatever career she ultimately chooses, and be able to enjoy it for what it is, and not to have to worry about getting sick. I want her to be able to date, get married, and have babies without illness always being a third party, waiting to get in on the action.
If there's just one thing I could wish for my sister in her life, it's a lifetime of health.
As our bond continues to grow, I hope we share everything, everything except my illnesses, that is.