My visit with Aunt Jean gave me a lot to think about. One thing we discussed was the sad passing of two of her daughters, Cathy and Ruthie, as well as the deaths of Uncle Robert and my grandmother. Two of these people died of cancer and two of heart-related ailments. Hearing the cause of their deaths made me think about others who have passed. My Aunt Grace died of a heart attack; my grandfather died of cancer, and my mother had a small cancerous tumor removed from her lung about a year before she died of congestive heart and kidney failure.
I thought a lot about the importance of considering the tales of relatives passing for the valuable information each story holds. What was most interesting about my aunt's stories was the hindsight she has regarding each illness and death. She was able to describe many indicators that something was wrong long before there was a diagnosis. Knowing earlier might have changed the outcome in some cases. For instance, my cousin Cathy's weight problem and reluctance to exercise were likely factors in her death. And my cousin Ruthie had an aversion to doctor's probably as a result of injuries suffered in a serious car accident. This aversion prevented her from getting to the doctor promptly for an assessment of some troubling symptoms. By the time she was evaluated, she had Stage 4 lymphoma.
At the same time, there were undeniable problems in the medical world and/or with insurance coverage. Cathy was given samples of medication for high blood pressure that seemed to make quite a difference in how she felt, but when she returned for a prescription for these meds, her insurance would not cover that particular medication and insisted she take another one that did not seem to work as well. At least Cathy did not feel as well taking what was in all probability an inferior medication. Ruthie was referred from one doctor to another and had long waits before appointments could be scheduled which was certainly a factor in her delayed diagnosis.
These are distressing stories and have made me think very carefully about what I'm doing and NOT doing with regard to my health. For one thing, I let my daily walks slide this fall when I started working part-time at the college. With my high cholesterol and my mother's and grandmother's histories of atherosclerosis, I can't let daily aerobic exercise slide for a minute. Walking is also a huge preventative for osteoporosis. Since the bone scan I had two years post menopause indicated that I had already lost bone mass, it's imperative that I walk regularly. I also realized that I am 10 months overdue for a mammogram. My aunt had another sad story about losing her sister this year to breast cancer, a loss that could have been prevented had her sister had a mammogram.
My response was quick: I've walked every day since returning from Arizona and I made an appointment for a mammogram. Though my diet is relatively good, it too had slipped and I got back on track with more greens and less coffee.
I don't expect to live forever, but I can behave responsibly with regard to my health and not ignore important indicators of the care I need to take. Thanks Aunt Jean for ALL of your great stories but especially for sharing your hindsight regarding the loss of your dear ones.