Thanksgiving is next week. Christmas arrived in Covington on Thursday (with the lighting of the Square) but still… let’s not forget about Thanksgiving! This is one of my favorite holidays.
When I was a little girl, Thanksgiving was a holiday that beautifully melded my family heritage. My American grandfather insisted on a turkey with stuffing (not dressing, mind you, stuffing – I admit I grew up as a Yankee). My Italian grandmother insisted on lasagna and eggplant parmesan. I can remember thinking is was strange that other families didn’t eat their turkey with lasagna. Most of us have family traditions that seem completely normal… to us.
Another tradition of my family was stories. I can remember my grandfather lighting his pipe as he talked about being in the Mediterranean when he met my grandmother and her family and how he knew from the first moment that they would wed. I loved listening to my grandmother’s comments from the kitchen about how it wasn’t easy being married to an Army officer with the constant traveling to different countries and having to raise their children almost alone. And they always spoke quietly when they talked about her mother and her struggle later in life with Alzheimer’s.
Sometimes it is the same stories and sometimes it is new ones for the holidays. Has Aunt Betty’s recent bout with bronchitis been worsened since her new husband is a smoker? Was your cousin’s child this colicky? Did Great Grandfather really die of a broken heart when Great Grandmother passed away and then he passed away 3 days later?
These stories are what make family gatherings interesting. And they can lead to better health.
Each year since 2004, the U.S. Surgeon General has declared Thanksgiving to be National Family History Day. You and your family members share genes, and you may also have similar behaviors, cultures, and environments. Your family stories are part of your family health history and knowing your health history can help determine your risk of developing health problems.
Health care professionals have known for a long time that common diseases—heart disease, cancer, and diabetes —and rare diseases—like hemophilia, cystic fibrosis, and sickle cell anemia —can run in families. If one generation of a family has high blood pressure, it is not unusual for the next generation to have similarly high blood pressure. Tracing the illnesses suffered by your parents, grandparents, and other blood relatives can help your doctor predict the disorders to which you may be at risk and take action to keep you and your family healthy.
Children who are adopted also benefit from seeking their family’s health histories as they share the same environmental and lifestyle risks with their adopted family. Perhaps the adoptive family smokes heavily, eats a diet high in sugar and fats, spends a lot of time in the sun without sunblock, or lives in a home with lead-based paint. All of these factors affect your health risk.
The holiday season offers many opportunities for your family to share a meal, some wonderful stories, and your family health history. Start a new family tradition this Thanksgiving and listen to your family stories with a new ear. Whether you have heard the story 50 times or it is a new one, listen for the parts that might help you understand your health a little better. Ask a few more questions and go a little further into the stories.
These stories discussed over turkey (and lasagna) just might save your life.
Hosanna Fletcher has lived in Newton County since 2005. With a Masters in Public Health and another in Sociology, she has worked on a variety of community development projects, led training sessions for Lay Health Advisors, conducted and evaluated health risk assessments, and designed and implemented employee wellness programs. Hosanna and her husband Kevin, a Newton County native, have been married for 15 years this October. They have two children — Miranda, 11, and Thomas, 3.