Monday, February 3, 2014
There is a question I hear a lot - second only to the question about whether Dad recognizes me or not. People ask me whether I am afraid of ending up with Lewy Body dementia, like my Dad. Since we still know so little about all the types of dementia and how and why they are caused, there are still questions about whether it is genetic or not. I believe Alzheimer’s is thought to be genetic, and indeed, I talk to many families who have several generations of it in their midst. I’m not sure what the consensus is on the other types of dementia, and whether they are genetically-inheritable or not.
From what I hear, the newest health hot topic is genetic testing, and finding out whether we have the genes for certain diseases in our makeup. Angelina Jolie, of course, tested positive for one of the most dangerous breast cancer genes and took action, sparking many others to look into their own cells for time bombs. Many others are finding out whether they have a predisposition to diseases like Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, and other cancers, and there is a huge debate raging about whether that is healthy, necessary, or even wise – to know what might be coming down your pike, so to speak. Personally, I’m of two minds.
My mother, of course, died of a lung cancer at forty-seven that had its genesis in breast cancer five years earlier. In her last letter to me, she exhorted me not to be terrified of breast cancer but to definitely keep on top (abreast? Heh) of testing and mammograms and such. It is possible I share her genes. And now with Dad, I could possibly have dementia floating around in there as well. Whether my parents actually had the genetic pathways to these diseases is unclear, however, because I think their emotional states and lifestyle choices might have had more to do with how they ended up physically.
My mother was disappointed and deeply angry about many things in her life, including her alcoholic father, and the difficulty of living with a depressed husband. She didn’t express this anger and resentment healthily and pushed it deep down inside. I believe her breast cancer had as much to do with rage and sorrow as it did her DNA. After my mom died, my father gradually retreated into himself and his depression, retired from his job, and stopped interacting with the world even in the small amounts he had. I think he broke the day my mom died - it just took ten years or so to start manifesting. He gave up.
So, yes, it is possible I have nastiness floating around in my cellular makeup – I suspect we all do to a certain extent. I certainly had something that contributed to my Rheumatoid Arthritis, although it is also true that there is no history of it in my family. I'm special that way! It is also highly probable that many of these diseases are being exacerbated by environmental problems – I think it’s likely we are poisoning ourselves. It is certainly true that our genes seem to let us down in certain ways.
So, I guess the only thing to do is continue to be as healthy as possible. I exercise, stretch, watch my weight, eat lots of veggies and not too much sugar, and I don't drink or smoke. I also know the wisdom of dealing with my emotions in a healthy way, working through my issues, using my brain to its fullest extent, meditating, and interacting with the world and my loved ones. Hopefully, one or all of these things will make a difference. I’ll make sure to get tested, and go to the doctor, but I’m going to bank on my strategy of being in the world in a healthy way and see where that gets me.