Jackie Gingrich Cushman

My mother's father died of cancer before I was born. My mother was pregnant with me, but had not told her father that she was to have a second child. The story I've been told is that they opened him up to remove the cancer -- and found it everywhere. They closed him back up and sent him home to die.

Both of my mother's brothers died of cancer. All three of these men were heavy smokers, one ignored the signs of potential trouble for years, and all three died from cancer.

My mother was diagnosed with cancer in 1978 and beat it. She was diagnosed a second time in 2005, but again beat cancer. She went to heaven last fall, but not due to cancer. She was not a smoker -- so what was the cause?

Her sister, my aunt, has never had cancer. I've often wondered, what genetics, lifestyles and triggers can make a difference in the cause of cancer?

There are some scientific discoveries so mind blowing that when you first hear about them you know that they are really, really big. That there will be ramifications for decades, even though you don't know what the ramifications will be.

The grandness of the discovery captures your imagination and changes your thoughts about relationships and life, even thought you don't quite understand the details, the underpinnings of the discovery.

Such is the discovery noted in The New York Times article this week, "Seeing X Chromosomes in a New Light," by Carl Zimmer. The article captured my imagination and broadened my mind.

The last time that I dealt with chromosomes was in college biology, when I had the mistaken belief that biology was my future and my major. A few chemistry labs later and one histology class, and I knew that my future was not in biology, but in business, where getting an A did not involve donning goggles and aprons for hours at a time.

As a quick review, the female chromosomes are XX and males are XY. Children receive one of their mother's X-chromosomes and either the X, or Y-chromosome from their father. The transmission of the father's chromosome determines whether the child is a male or female. This is not new news, but old.

Females, having two X-chromosomes, shut down one of the chromosomes at a cellular level. Which X-chromosome is shut down varies by cell -- in some it's the one passed down by the father, in others it's the chromosome that is passed down by the mother.

OK -- so scientists have known about this for over five decades, and it's just now coming to my attention -- but why the press now?

Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Jackie Gingrich Cushman is a speaker, syndicated columnist, socialpreneur, and author of "The Essential American: 25 Documents and Speeches Every American Should Own," and co-author of “The 5 Principles for a Successful Life: From Our Family to Yours”.