Generally speaking, TID is inherited. Researchers have not pinned down a particular gene, but they have identified two different gene groups common in T1D patients. The current thinking is that the gene groups carry the code not for T1D, but for the auto-immune response that triggers T1D. Not everyone who has one or both of these gene groups will have T1D, but everyone with T1D has one or both of the groups in their genetic make up.
So it has been rather curious for us as a family to have a child with T1D because we didn’t have any extended family members who had T1D, and my son’s doctors felt sure that the disease would have reared its ugly head before now. For me, the thought that my son was some kind of anomaly, an exception to everything science knows about what triggers T1D, was unsettling. I’m the kind of person who likes answers. I wanted a reason for my son to have T1D, other than it just happened.
That is why I felt such relief this morning when my mother-in-law told me that two of her brothers from who she has been separated since her childhood have children with T1D. Finally. The missing link. Truth be told, I had already suspected the link to my mother-in-law’s family. Her sister has an adult son who takes insulin. My mother-in-law has always insisted he was Type 2, but I thought it strange that he was diagnosed in his late 20s and that he was put on insulin immediately. Type 2s are usually diagnosed later in age (though that is changing with the obesity trend) and generally, Type 2s do not go on insulin immediately, but can usually be treated with pills such as Metformin first. But everyone insisted that this young man was Type 2 and my logic was lost on them. Furthering my suspicions is the tragic fact that my mother-in-law had a younger brother who mysteriously died when he was only four years old. I have wondered quietly for the last eight months if he might have been an undiagnosed T1D. He passed away in the 1940s when medical care in the rural area where my mother-in-law lived was non-existent.
Unlike the relief I feel “knowing” the link, I suspect my mother-in-law feels an inherited sense of guilt. I know this because as she revealed the news about her niece and nephew, one of whom was diagnosed at age 2, she insisted that they both had mothers whose families had a history of T1D and thus her line was still “clean” and my son’s T1D is not her fault. But I am quietly certain that evidence points to other conclusions…and that is fine. In fact, that is great! I don’t blame my mother-in-law for my son’s disease. How could I? She is no more at fault for my son’s T1D than my father is for my son’s excessively wide feet that make it impossible to buy shoes for him in a regular department store. Genetics happen…without our consent or our blessing. That’s just life and the chances we take.
Knowing that that there are others in our extended family who have T1D actually makes me feel like we are not quite so alone in this as I thought we were. I am thankful for this. I hope one day my mother-in-law can get to this place, too. Because even if I knew before I had my son that he would become diabetic, I still would not have changed a thing.