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!