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Share Stories and Family Health History this Holiday Season

Rachel Morrell

Share Stories and Family Health History this Holiday Season

There is nothing like the holidays to bring a family together for storytelling. My Grandma Shirley is one of the best storytellers I know. As a mother of 12 children, she has plenty of subject matter, I assure you! Some of her favorite stories involve family genealogy. She loves to tell the story of how one half of our family spells their last name differently than the other half. It all began when two brothers came through Ellis Island from Belgium. One brother’s name was spelled correctly on the register, but the other’s was not. The new spelling stuck for that half of the family, but the descendants of both brothers still gather for annual family reunions and debate the accuracy of one another’s surnames.

Unless you get invitations to annual covered dish picnics and patriotic reenactments of the Ellis Island immigration like I do, it may be a rare occasion to get the whole family together. When you do see your family, it is important to take advantage of these opportunities and talk about family history. These times are special, and they often occur around the holidays, so cherish these moments by telling stories that can change lives.

Just as stories are passed down from one generation to the next, chronic diseases like colon cancer can be passed down as well. In fact, researchers are finding that family history plays a larger role than previously thought. The problem is that families are not communicating. Over 96 percent of Americans believe that knowing complete family health history is important, but 70 percent of Americans have not bothered to ask.

Holidays are an ideal time to have a family health history conversation. After the big meal, there is usually some “lazy time” for rest and conversation while everyone allows their food to digest. Instead of just resorting to headline news or neighborhood gossip, steer the conversation in a different direction and ask older family members to share information about family health history. Offer to take notes during the conversation and distribute the information to family members later.

The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force recommends that individuals who are at average risk for colon cancer should schedule their first colonoscopy around the age of 50. If you have a first-degree relative such as a parent or sibling who has been diagnosed with colon cancer, this recommendation changes. You should begin colon cancer screening 10 years prior to the youngest case. For example, if your mother was diagnosed with colon cancer at age 45, you should have your first colonoscopy at age 35.

Even having a family history of precancerous polyps can increase your chances for developing colon cancer by 35 to 70 percent. The key is knowing when to get screened. Colon cancer is 90 percent treatable when diagnosed at an early stage. If you have a family history of colon cancer, your doctor will help you to know when you should have your first colonoscopy. Make the holidays a little brighter by sharing family health history at your next family gathering.

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