Why I Care.

It occurred to me after all the prior discussion on this blog about fitness in general, whether to write about it, whether some people hate the topic or just don’t want to talk about it, and yada yada yada, that it might not be a bad idea to share with you just a bit more background about why healthy eating and fitness are important to me.  It all goes back to my roots.

I have written about my mom and her attitudes about eating, which were very good.  What I haven’t shared is that both she and my dad died younger than they strictly had to as a result of lifestyle-related diseases, and that their quality of life was compromised long before they each passed away in part because of choices they made far earlier in life.

My dad lived to 81, and my mom to 84.  This sounds pretty good, on paper, but in reality I feel they both should have had several more good, quality years in them.  I know, we can argue the philosophical, religious, and existential aspects of that statement until we all keel over ourselves, and we’ll never come to an agreement.  I’m choosing to focus on the medical and scientific aspects of the discussion. 

Dad died of colon cancer.  His original diagnosis was in about 1996.  He had an encapsulated tumor removed from his bowel, a very light round of injected chemotherapy, which was elective, and moved on quickly, cancer free, for the next eight years, with clean annual checkups.  At that point, unfortunately, the one or two bad cells that escaped destruction years ago took hold with a death grip, and his metastatic disease spread incredibly rapidly, such that there was really no hope when it was discovered in late 2003.  He died in March, 2004.  

My dad had a host of other health issues that plagued him throughout his adult life, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, blocked carotid arteries, a diseased gallbladder, and lousy circulation.   He was also overweight.

I’m not entirely certain what really caused my mom’s death, other than simple exhaustion with the act of living.  But she did plenty to help it along.  A lifelong smoker, she had emphysema, and really struggled with her breathing.  She also had diverticulitis (a digestive problem), high blood pressure, hyperthyroidism, glaucoma, macular degeneration, and other things we’ll never know about because she just “toughed out” a lot of aches and pains.

My parents were children of the Depression Era, when you got your exercise from the honest, hard work of survival.  Dad was a farmer, and Mom was the daughter of the village blacksmith.  Neither had indoor plumbing in their houses growing up.  Animal fat was a major food group in their respective family diets, and it was legitimately considered a protective nutrient back then, because people worked so darn hard they needed it and were able to metabolize away the harmful bits. 

Fast forward to the time when Dad was a farm implement salesman and mom was a housewife with part time work in a store.  They’ve had their family.  They are not required to perform physical labor.  They garden a little, hit thousands of golf balls (riding in a cart between shots, of course), and maybe stroll a block or two once in a while.  That’s it as far as moving around, and guess what?  They can afford steaks, and they still like cheese and sausage, and whole milk, and vegetables doused in butter.  And ice cream.  And real soda.

When I got old enough to start questioning this stuff, they thought I was funny.  They called me a “health nut.”  When we’d take the girls to visit, we’d bring along skim milk, yogurt, granola, and fruit.  “What, isn’t my food good enough?”  Mom would snort.  When I went out running, they’d shake their heads in disbelief.  When we’d walk the 5 blocks to the post office instead of driving, they’d chuckle indulgently.  When I quailed about my mom’s smoking, she ignored me, or got mad.  She didn’t smoke around my kids, or in my house or my car, but on her own time, whether I was there or not, it was tough beans.

Don’t get me wrong.  I loved my parents dearly, and would have them back in a heartbeat without changing one single thing about them.  I just wish, I wish, that they had taken the slightest interest in how the way they were treating their bodies might affect their longevity.  If they had, I might still be able to take the girls to see them, or call them up to hear about their latest golf outing, or invite them to visit.

I know perfectly well that they couldn’t control everything that ultimately befell their health.  I know I can’t do that for myself.  I get that people who do absolutely everything “right” sometimes keel over of heart attacks or strokes, that lung cancer strikes people who have never smoked, and that hosts of diseases simply cannot be prevented or explained by lifestyle choices. 

I’m just looking for a fighting chance to get all the years I can, and to make the time, however short or long, of good quality.

This, friends, is why I care.

Have a great day, everyone!







Filed under 100 Miles or Bust, Lifebits

13 responses to “Why I Care.

  1. It saddens me when I hear how the children of today are growing up obese. That Americans are the fattest in the nation. I ask myself what happened? Lots of course. Fast-food nation, video games, tv, physical education being removed from schools, etc. Growing up was so different for me. Limited television watching, played outside with my friends all the time and had a mother cooking dinner. I remember that fast food was rare and a real treat when we did have it! Was not a daily habit like it is today. I myself want to live as long as possible and try to do what I can. I may slip from time to time and tell myself you only live once, but for the most part I like feeling good from the benefits of exercise and decent eating.

  2. I’m a bit odd, I guess. It’s not the length. It’s quality. We can be hit by MS, ALS and many other illnesses that are not directly a result of any particular lifestyle. Your parents (and mine) were from a generation that ate more locally. They are also Depression era and that meant eating what was there. I hear you and agree, to a point. I just feel that each generation has their own issues and approaches due to many extenuating circumstances. And, in the end, we are all flawed, self-medicating human beings.

  3. Beth

    My mother, to whom I was extremely close, passed away 10 years ago next week. This is (and doubtless always will) be a very hard time for me, and your post today is very close to my heart.

    My mother never smoke, drank a glass of wine perhaps two times a month, exercised moderately. No family history, no risk factors.

    At 73, she was diagnosed with late stage bladder cancer and died less than a year later. One of my husband’s dear friends had the same thing happen to his wife in her 40’s.

    It seems to me that, since horrible things can happen no matter what we do, we should try our best to limit the odds of the things we can help. So, we watch what we eat, exercise, drink very moderately, limit sun exposure, wear our seatbelts, etc. I know that it’s no guarantee, but at least I feel like I’m improving the odds.

  4. You make excellent points for healthy living choices. My mom died of colon cancer, too. She was overweight, smoked and had high blood pressure. She never exercised. I really don’t want to take that path!

  5. This is a really thought-provoking post. I think it’s so important for us to understand why we do what we do, and you’ve articulated your reasons really well. I see my mom struggle with so many ailments because she didn’t remain physically active. I want to be strong and able to use my body as long as possible and as vigorously as possible…and that’s only going to happen through healthy living (and, of course, a bit of good fortune). Thanks for a great post.

  6. Joy

    Very well-said – thanks! We saw the “use it or lose it” with MIL – she basically quit moving, and got to where she could hardly get around.

  7. YF Chris

    Beth’s point about doing what we can to help ourselves — those things that are within our control — is right on. Which makes me go nuts when I see people out there smoking, or riding motorcycles without helmets. As to the former, that includes my own family members who actually have seen their loved ones die from lung cancer and yet continue to smoke. I understand (at least intellectually) that smoking is VERY addictive, but shouldn’t that horrific experience create enough motivation to vault a person to a point that’s well on the way to overcoming that addiction? And living in Harley Country Wisconsin, we see volumes of MC riders careening down the freeway at 70+ mph without helmets. These people should make a point to visit with just one person who’s suffered from a traumatic brain injury (or a family member who’s lived through it) to convince them that the protection of a helmet is a good trade-off for “feeling free, with the wind streaming through their hair.”
    Okay. Enough of the soapbox. I think I’m going to go for a run after work and eat vegetarian tonight! 🙂

  8. Wow, and I was just thinking, your folks lived a good long while… my mother’s peeps live to their early 80s, barring accidents… my dad’s though, more of them never reach 70, whether they did ‘right’ or not. My dad ran circles around the ‘youngsters’ but missed 67 by a month. I do agree with you though, in doing your best re: food, exercise, lifestyle, but I also realize there’s just no guarantee. none.
    Beth, I’ll be keeping you tucked in close this coming month.

    I know I bitch and moan about all the yard(s) work I do but bottom line? I’m really very pleased with myself that I can do it and do it well… no matter how hard or strenuous it can get.

  9. Fine. I’ll go for a walk today, even if it’s only 10 minutes.

  10. Sometimes I get so fed up with some of my issues… that I just don’t care. I made a commitment to myself this year and I’ve been working on getting healthier (still not smoking! yeah!). But sometimes… I just think “I’ve earned every pound” between the lupus and steroids and the arm and the one medicine for the arm which makes you gain weight. Sometimes it’s easy to say screw it.

  11. It’s a good enough reason to care. We do what we can and hope for the best, right?

    I’m going through IVF – nearly a year in – and sometimes I hate, hate, hate that I am doing everything I can in terms of diet, self care etc and it’s still not working, but at least I am trying. I try to remember that.

  12. Thanks for caring, Nora, and reminding me to care, too.

  13. Not that you needed to give me a reason, but caring is good.

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