When my father-in-law was in his 30s, he was diagnosed with colorectal cancer as a result of familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), a genetic condition that stimulates the production of polyps and increases a person’s cancer risk. My husband, Jesse, learned that he too had familial adenomatous polyposis when he was 15 years old.
By the time I met Jesse in college, he’d already had a colectomy, a procedure that removed his colon. So after we got married, we had a lot of conversations about whether we should have children and risk passing this condition onto them. Jesse and I decided to put our faith in God and not let a genetic condition get in the way of our life.
Talking to our children about familial adenomatous polyposis
Now, we’re proud parents of an 8-year-old son and a 5-year-old daughter, and we talk openly with them about familial adenomatous polyposis.
Starting at about age 3, we showed them anatomy books and explained that their daddy doesn’t have a colon. Slowly and through regular conversation, we explained the potential impact that familial adenomatous polyposis may have on their bodies, too. We relied on reading materials to help us create talking points and answer questions properly.
These conversations also helped us prepare our children for Jesse’s Whipple procedure, which he underwent last November after doctors discovered high-grade dysplasia in his duodenum. The Whipple procedure removed Jesse’s duodenum, gall bladder as well as a part of his stomach and pancreas.
Coping with fears of passing on familial adenomatous polyposis
Yes, my children sometimes get scared about the possibility of having familial adenomatous polyposis, but we support them and try to quell their fears. We remind them that their daddy’s already had a colectomy and the Whipple procedure, and he still really loves his life. He can eat what he wants, he can still have a family and his quality of life is great.
And yes, I sometimes worry about whether they’ve inherited the disease, but I try not to dwell on it because it’s not something any of us can control. None of us knows what’s in store for us. In fact, Jesse and I choose to count ourselves among the lucky because at least we know that familial adenomatous polyposis runs in his family and we can be proactive about reducing his cancer risk and that of our children. Many people aren’t as fortunate.
We hope we’ll be able to have our children tested by their 10th birthdays, and we are so pleased to know that MD Anderson will be there for us as they get screened and for any potential surgeries they may need to improve their quality of life and enable them to hopefully lead cancer-free lives. Mostly, we try to remind ourselves that whatever happens, everything will be OK.