On Genetics, Motivation & Habits…

In light of my Lucy-dog’s recent health issues, along with the news this past weekend that my dad’s lymphoma is back and worse than before (stage 3, tentatively diagnosed), I’ve been thinking about genetics. Aside from the fact that one was a lab and the other a German Shepherd, I have no idea what Lucy’s parent’s medical history is like, and I’m curious as to whether her parents had any of the problems she’s having. It’s not like you can really do anything to avoid having the pancreas stop working, and one side of hers stopped working 5 yrs ago when she wasn’t quite 3 yrs old. The other side stopped working this year, and no one quite knows why dogs get diabetes (and they almost always get type 1).

As for my dad, his mother got/developed Non-Hodgkins lymphoma presenting as a lump on her neck one week before her 50th birthday. They treated her with chemo, it came back every 5 yrs and she went another round of chemo, and finally after 15 yrs or so, it stopped coming back.

My dad developed the same thing presenting as…a lump on his neck one week before his 50th birthday (signals a very strong genetic component). It was treated by radiation (followed by hyperbaric chamber treatments to repair the damage to his jaw bone), and he’s been clear for…well, 10 yrs to this diagnosis, but certain symptoms point to the cancer maybe being present for a couple years prior.

My grandma was an oldest or only (can’t remember) child, my dad is the oldest in his family, and I’m the oldest in mine. Which means I have about 10 yrs left before we find out whether my mom’s genetics are strong enough to overpower my dad’s as far as this particular cancer goes, and if any of the healthy choices I’ve made and keep trying to make will have any effect at all on whether I end up with rebellious lymph cells or not.

Basically, it’s all a big crap-shoot.

Some days, it’s motivating. When I heard about my dad’s cancer coming back, my knee-jerk reaction was to review my diet & exercise and adjust accordingly for optimal health. I have been rather lax with both lately, and while I’m never going to be one of those people who completely eschews cookie dough and the occasional coke, I absolutely have some room for easy improvement. It would be stupid not to, really – I mean, I have ample warning about what could and may well happen to me when I hit 50, and even if I can’t stop my cells from going bonkers, I can make sure that I’m healthy enough to fight it if it does happen. There is no downside to living healthier.

But I also have those days we all do, when I just look at the genetic history and think to myself, “What’s the point? It’s gonna get me anyways, I might as well have that big plate of pasta or the too-big piece of cheesecake, or skip tonight’s workout.” Destructive thinking that is always a no-win situation, but we all indulge occasionally (thought-wise and physically).

The trick is, of course, to have more motivated days than destructive days – sometimes easier said than done, especially when there are other things going on in life. In the absence of motivation, of course, the second-best thing is habit – that thing that tells us to get up from our desks a few times a day, or get up off the couch every night whether we want to or not, just because “it’s what we do”.

I really need better habits. I’ve developed a morning yoga habit, and I keep up with that faithfully – I really enjoy starting my day that way. You wouldn’t think anything could possibly get in the way that early in the morning (I do it before my husband even gets up and the dogs go back to bed after breakfast), but last week, it got trickier with Lucy’s new insulin and blood testing needs. I still managed, but it was tight, and I might have to rework my morning routine a bit to give myself a little more breathing room. I’m determined to hang onto that habit though.

Break times at work, nightly treadmill and total gym sessions, drinking more water, making better carb choices for meals…all of that can be turned into a habit. And they should be, just like ordering iced tea in a restaurant instead of coke (even though I abhor restaurant tea – it’s still slightly more interesting than plain water).

No, I’m still not going to pass up the occasional root beer float, or pizza on Thursdays, or donuts on Sunday mornings. But the motivation to create these new habits won’t last forever (though it might be longer this time – looks like my dad’s got a lot of chemo ahead of him), so I need to get on it while the motivation is there, in order to keep the habits when the motivation fades.

I may not be able to beat genetics, but I have the opportunity to lesson the negative impact they could have on my life. Seems kind of stupid not to take advantage…


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