Two devastating diseases precipitate the health care crises of So Much for That. Glynis develops mesothelioma, a type of invasive cancer that is associated with exposure to asbestos. This type of cancer typically starts in the lungs but can affect the entire mesothelium - the tissue that lines many internal organs. Not only is mesothelioma notoriously difficult to treat, it's also hard to pinpoint its exact cause, since its onset typically happens 30 to 50 years after initial exposure to asbestos. In Shriver's novel, Glynis, an artist who works with metal, was exposed to the hazardous substance in the studio as an art student, although she initially blames her husband Shep for introducing the toxin through his work in the home construction and repair industries.
While Glynis develops mesothelioma in middle age, Jackson and Carol's daughter Flicka has dealt all her life with familial dysautonomia (or FD), a genetic disorder that occurs almost exclusively in people of Ashkenazi Jewish descent. Approximately 1 in 27 individuals of Eastern European Jewish ancestry carries this gene. FD affects cells in the autonomic nervous system, disrupting the customary functioning of such things as tear production, breathing, blood pressure, and digestion, as well as the ability of individuals to sense taste, pain, heat, and cold. Although the disease does not seem to affect mental processes, it can result in physical developmental delays. Although, as Shriver indicates in her story, there are many therapies available for people with this condition, there is still no cure, and a child born today with FD has a 50% chance of reaching his or her thirtieth birthday.
This article was originally published in April 2010, and has been updated for the
March 2011 paperback release.
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