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Fighting My Father’s Fate

Can I avoid my family history of hereditary disease?

Lifestyle Changes to Lower the Risks of Hereditary Disease continued...

Zabel agrees that it isn’t easy. “Even if you know that you’re increasing your risk, it’s very hard to change your behavior,” she says. 

Once again, some of the problem can be traced back to family history, although not necessarily to our genes. Good habits may be at odds with the ones we learned from our families. Adopting a healthier way of life can feel like you’re betraying your roots. If staying seated, eating lots of candy and meat, and dying young was good enough for my ancestors, why isn’t it good enough for me? Sometimes, while I labor on the treadmill, I sense the cold glare of my portly waistcoated forefathers. “Hey, Mister Tofu,” they say, “you think you’re better than us?”

But I just keep trotting.

Fighting Family History

So far, I’m in good health. I don’t share many of my father’s risk factors. Still, I’m making a concerted effort to fight any sinister influence in my genetic profile. Like everyone, I’ve made and broken pledges to exercise more and eat better before. But I’m forcing myself to believe that it’s different this time. I’ve been spurred on by the birth of my daughter, who gave me a new and better reason to reform and live longer. 

There’s something else I have to do. In a few months, I’ll take a trip to my mom’s house. There, my mother tells me, entombed in a filing cabinet in the shed, are my father’s medical records, right where she put them just after his death. So I’ll push through the cobwebs and dead moths and the sediment of the last two decades and pull them out. 

I’ve avoided looking at them for a long time. But as Cathy Wicklund told me, it’s better to know than to wonder. I might finally understand not only what happened to my father 20 years ago, but what might be happening inside me right now. There may be some detail in that file that could save my life.

We’ll see how it goes.  Ask me about it in 2037.  I’ll be 65.

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Reviewed on July 01, 2007

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