If you like a really good story, this one is going to rock your socks! So go pop some corn and let me entertain you.
2018 was hands down one of the hardest, strangest years of my adult life. Yes, I have said that line a lot and it never stops being true. Oh hey 2019…that is NOT a challenge.
One of the most unexpected things came a pretty ubiquitous source.
I had heard of the Ancestry dot com and 23 & Me DNA tests of course but I had not given them too much thought. Then in April of 2018 a familial DNA match was used to catch the Golden State Killer in California. I didn’t think I could actually help catch a serial killer. Especially since in Canada “Direct-to-consumer genetic testing companies are subject to Canada’s federal and provincial private sector privacy laws if they are situated in Canada or have a real and substantial link to Canada.” https://www.priv.gc.ca/en/privacy-topics
However it did start me thinking and before for too long I was TOTALLY down to submit my spit to 23 & Me! My husband chose that one because it includes a health screening. The genetic testing portion was very interesting to me as my mom died at 44 of breast cancer. In all likelihood she was a carrier of the BRCA 1 or 2 gene. I was terrified but curious to know if I was a carrier too. So I did it, I filled up the little plastic tube with my spit and sent it off in the mail.
In the weeks that followed my husband and I talked extensively about what we would do if my BRCA 1 & 2 test came back positive. It was something I have thought about most of my life to be honest. I knew that even though the thought was terrifying I was ready to get a bilateral prophylactic mastectomy and reconstruction. The weeks wore on and life continued on as normal, well as normal as they could have been during a major depressive episode.
While we were away for the Labour day long weekend I finally received the email I had been so eagerly waiting for. I immediately went to the the BRCA test and was ecstatic to read the result was negative. I did a little dance, hugged my husband and then went back to my weekend. The email forgotten… for a time.
On Monday after I was home from weekend fun and remembered the email. I logged into 23 & Me to take a poke around not really expecting anything of note. As suspected my lineage was largely Scots Irish, with a splash of French, German and Broadly Western European, whatever the heck that means.
On the left hand side of the page was an option to take me to my DNA relatives, all 1064 of them. I’m a MacNeil from Cape Breton so I had anticipated several hundred 3rd, 4th and further cousins. I clicked the button. It took a long time for my brain to process what I was seeing. The very top of the list was a very pretty brunette who shared 26.7% of my DNA. The algorithm predicted her to be my aunt. But I knew in my gut she was not my aunt. I clicked on her biography. She was looking to connect with her birth family. She wrote that her birth mother was a nurse from Nova Scotia, living in Montreal in 1964, who had died in her early 40’s. I knew immediately who she was looking for … Leone. My mother. Our mother.
My chest felt tight and light as I started to type “We have a very strong match! 26.7% My mother was a nurse, she was from Nova Scotia, she lived in Montreal in the 60’s and died at 44. I hope this is not too overwhelming for you but I think you might be my sister.”
Guys! When I was a little girl I asked Santa every single year for a big sister, and when I was 43 years old he came thru for me!! From that very first message my life has changed so much. We had an immediate and undeniable connection. Our daily emails and texts led to a visit to meet face to face in late September. I confess I was nervous but amazingly it was not at all like meeting a stranger. In fact it was like reconnecting with an old friend I hadn’t seen in a very long time.
This doesn’t mean there haven’t been some complex emotions in discovering a long lost sister. My siblings and I have a lot of questions that sadly will never be answered. Our mother took a lot of secrets to her grave but we are choosing not to dwell on that. Instead we are going to be grateful for the advances in science that have brought us together and spend the rest of our lives making up for that missed time.