Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Healing the family history

When I do genealogy research, whether it is for my own family, a friend or a client, I like to look at every possible bit of information.
One of the ones that are usually overlooked, is the information on the health condition of a person.
This is one of the family history data that can bring a descendant closer to his/her ancestors and can benefit the whole family in so many ways...

As an example, when I was doing research for this client/friend, I found out that one of her ancestors couldn't go to the town hall because of a very bad case of arthritis, so the mayor had to go to her house to officiate the wedding. When I presented my client with this piece of information, she was amazed at how this health condition had been passed down the family tree, since both she and her mom suffer from arthritis. Even if not a happy thing, knowing about her ancestor's health condition brought her closer to this particular relative.

Have you ever looked at your family history from a health point of view?
Do you know how your great grandma died? Do you know your family health history?
Would that be important for you to know? Would this info help you heal your family history?

I am surely trying to heal mine. 
Let me tell you how and why.


My family health history is pretty complex. Looking at it, I feel like my chances of having a life threatening disease is very high, and when I couple my family health history with my husband's, I really feel the need to protect my children from the  list of health conditions that has affected our ancestors that could be genetic, or family tradition related.

We all know about genetics, so let me explain how a condition could be family tradition related with another example.
I remember when I was little, my mom used to slather these bread slices with lard and then fry it in a pan, making some kind of "piadina". To us it was the most delicious thing on earth, but let's face it, it was not the healthiest option for little kids. Thing is, she learned this from her mom, who probably learned it from her mom; especially during time of war, this was something "special" that they used to make. My grandma died of stomach cancer. I was only 12 when I watched her suffer so much, and I heard her last words: "Look what I have become".
This was the first time (that I remember) that I was faced with a death in the family, and to make it worse, she was the only grandma I knew, since my dad's mom had died before I was born.
I remember, beside the pain of losing my dear grandma, the fear of the possibility that I would have to suffer and die like that. I was still young, so I did not know a lot about cancer, beside the fact that it could be genetic. Thinking about the diet rich in animal fats my grandma used to eat, I now feel that I could have experienced the joy of having my children listen to their "bisnonna" Michelina's stories if she had known how she could have prevented or at least lived longer through such a disease by watching her diet, and possibly looking into some natural remedies.
Her husband died 6 years later, he had been suffering of senile Dementia and it was really sad for me to see him going down hill... With the knowledge of today, I could have helped by having him try some coconut oil in his food, to help "nourish" his brain, and more than likely with some changes in his diet, he could have been sharper till the end.
On my father's side, my granddad died of colon cancer. I know very little about his diet, but I know that he worked in a tobacco factory. More than likely it was the exposure to such highly cancerous substances that caused his illness, and death. You can be sure that I keep my kids away from any tobacco product.
My dad's mom died of childbirth, together with her little one. I know very little about her condition, but since she had already given birth to 5 children,  I wonder what could have been the reason for her death... At the same time, this has brought me to be very health conscious (even more than usual) during each of my pregnancies.
My dad died when I was 13. He had 2 heart attacks while doing one of his dialysis sessions.
We used to joke that the list of his health conditions was much longer than a grocery list for a big family.
He was diagnosed with diabetes when he was young, but he didn't take any medicine for it, nor did he really triy to check his diet. By the time I was born, my dad's health was going down hill. He still had diabetes, but was checking his diet by  having sugar free, whole grain meals, and was  taking medicine for it, but these medicines had countless side effects.  He also had  arteriosclerosis, myocarditis, arthritis, and had to have laser surgery since he was going blind.  Additionally, he had bronchial asthma and ended up in kidney failure by the time I was a teenager, thus the dialysis since he was not eligible for a kidney transplant because of his diabetes. Each of the medicines he was taking for these conditions brought up lots of side effect, so he had to take more medicines to limit them.
My memories of my dad are of the many times I would go visit him in the hospital, the times he would put an IV in his arms by himself, hanging it on the dining room lamp, while we were doing homework right by his side, and the last memories are of him in his warm jacket sitting by the wood stove most of the time because he was always cold...
 I  do have happier memories, like his being very proud of our school achievement, and always defending our right to education over everything else, but his health really limited his ability to play with us and do anything that required energy and strength.
He was a very strong person, both physically and emotionally, but all these illnesses took a lot from him.
I have also been wondering where the diabetes came from in my dad's family tree, since all of his siblings were diagnosed with it also. My thought is that it came from someone further back in time.  Talking with a long lost cousin on my dad's side, I discovered that her mom died of child birth, from complications due to diabetes. Could diabetes have been the cause for my grandma's death too, since they descended from the same family tree? I wish I had more info, but for now, this is a plausible hypothesis. As a prevention, I do watch my kid's sugar intake, and offer them whole grains most of the times we have bread or pasta at our table.
My mom suffers from bipolar disease, not sure where in her family tree this came from, but since my cousin is bipolar also, my brother suffers from depression, my sister has suffered from post partum depression, and probably I did too (was never diagnosed though), it must come from someone up in the family tree. The only info I have is from word of mouth, since many in my family say that my  great grandma Margherita (nonna Michelina's mom) killed her self jumping from a balcony from this mental facility, where she was put because she tried to kill her husband when she caught him cheating on her. Whether this story is true or not, I do know that there is mental struggling in my family history, so this is another concern for me and my children.
Because of her smoking habit, my mom has struggled all of her life with asthma, episodes of bronchitis, and ended up with an emphysema, which never improved because she keeps wanting to smoke. She also suffer from arthritis.
Because of all the medications she is taking for the other illnesses, my mom has developed diabetes, high blood pressure and kidney problems.
I have had quite a few health problems myself in my "short" 40 years of life on this earth (hoping to at least double them - the years, not the health problems :)).
I believe that some were genetic, some due to family habits and tradition, some due to prescription drug side effects and some plain environmental.
I was diagnosed with rheumatism at age 6. Back then people knew very little about children's rheumatism, and I remember being made fun of by my school friends because they believed I was lying about my condition, and how it hurt to sit on the hard chair in my class after all those penicillin shots I had to have for weeks if not months. To limit the side effects of penicillin, I would be given high doses of vitamin B, but I think that  was not sufficient, because I ended up not growing as tall as my sister or brother, I have been facing periods of anemia during my whole life, and experienced many other side effects.
Later in life I have been dealing  with respiratory problems, like asthma and chronic bronchitis, first because of my mom's smoking habit which exposed me to second hand smoke, then I experienced even worse asthma attacks  after a round of steroids shots I had to have because of a highly painful neck and shoulders condition which kept me out of school for a year.
I have had tachycardia and also suffered from ulcers and reflux in my college years. I was vegetarian, didn't smoke nor drink coffee or alchool, my only weakness was chocolate, so the doctors were very surprised I had all those health problems. Their only thought was that stress was a definite factor, together with the pain killers and the steroids I had to take for such a long time in the past. It goes without saying that I have stayed away from pain killers and steroids since! I was doing all I could to the best of my knowledge to eat healthy and exercise, but the effect of the many prescription drugs I had to take were very difficult to overcome.
It was also possible that I was dealing with the side effects of whatever OTC or prescription drugs my mom was taking when she got pregnant with me, since I was not planned, and she always smoked, and she did like to drink wine and other alcohol drinks.
By the end of my 20s, I was going to the hospital every 6 months to try and fix stomach, heart and other problems that kept coming. Every time I was prescribed new drugs, and the only ones I would say no to were painkillers and steroids.

Once I came to America and married the love of my life, I knew I wanted to give my children the best chances possible at having a healthy start in life, so I decided to stop taking the few medications I was still taking for my stomach because one of their side effects is birth defects.
I also learned about high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated fats and stayed away from them. We gradually took soda out of our home and introduced even more vegetable and fruit in our diet.
While I had lots of pain from my back because of a degenerating condition in my spine that would get worse with the progressing pregnancy, I did not have any ulcer or related symptoms during each pregnancy, besides the occasional heartburn or nausea.
I never took pain killers, and took as little prescription drugs as possible for a couple very bad asthma attacks.
Besides my first child for whom I ended up having to give birth in the hospital because after 24 hours from my water breaking I was not having real contraction, and was given drugs even if I did not really want them to, my children were all as healthy as they could be when they were born (naturally, with no drugs!), and I have worked hard to help them avoid or at least postpone as much as possible, any of the illnesses in their family history. My first born child has had behavioral issues, and I can't help but think that the drugs I was given might have had a part in this.

I am not going to analyze my husband's family history in detail, it should suffice to say that his "family health heirlooms" include diabetes, high blood pressure, cholesterol, sleep apnea, Alzheimer, stroke, skin cancer, periodontal disease, kidney disease and more, so you bet I am constantly searching for ways to heal our family history, and with all the experience I have had with conventional drugs side effects, I am continually looking for a more natural approach to healthcare.

I do realize that my natural approach is something that also comes from my immediate family history. One of the reasons my dad did not take medicine for his diabetes in the beginning was that he thought he would be able to take care of himself. I still remember the many books in our house talking about healing with herbs, studying the human body, and much more. I think he was on the right path, just did not have enough information to completely heal himself naturally. Nowadays, I not only have many more books I can read, but also a huge source as the internet and many more natural healing experts and practitioners to ask counsel to than my dad ever had.

I have been searching even more after last January, when both my husband and I ended up in the hospital for a surgical procedures within 8 days from each other. I had shoulder surgery, he had to have a stent placement to save him from a heart attack due to a clogged artery. We later discovered that he had kidney problems that would only get worse, and each and every prescription he has to take will just speed up the process.
For a moment I felt like I was living my mom's life, and I got a greater understanding of all the suffering she went through both while my dad was still alive, but sick, and after we lost him.
Thankfully, my husband is still alive, and I am doing all I can to keep him with us :)

My research has brought me to discover the benefits of essential oils , and we have started using them on a daily bases for our family.

They have helped me recover from my surgery and gain the use of my shoulder back. They have helped take care of seasonal illnesses and allergies, and keep us healthy when there were viruses going around.
I find myself wondering how using essential oils could have changed my family's health history, especially fantasizing to be able to meet my grandparents on my father's side. Could they have lived longer? Would their quality of life be better?
While I cannot go back in the past, I surely can learn from the past.
Knowing my family health history helps me learn what the illnesses are that we are genetically predisposed to, and knowing the environment and family traditions of my family also help me get a better picture.
For example, my rheumatism could have been due to living in a cold and humid environment, also, since I remember a good bunch of baby bottles in my home, it is possible that my mom did not nurse me for long time (she wouldn't tell me, and even if she did, sadly it is pretty difficult to get much truth from her anyways...)
Bronchitis and asthma were exacerbated from being around smokers, but also around a not so well ventilated fireplace, or just in a room with the heat turned on. 
I have learned that most times taking care of pain is not really worth the many side effects of a drug, and there are many natural alternatives to conventional medicine.
With this piece of information, I know I need to keep my kids away from humidity and at the same time to limit the heating in our home especially at night. We prefer to use extra blankets.
I have nursed all my kids until they were 15-18 months old, which should have strengthened their immune system. They don't get sick so often, and when they do, I now use essential oils to help them overcome their illness, thus avoiding undesirable side effects.

I know there are things that even with all my efforts my children will still have to deal with, but I feel confident I am giving them the best chance and the best tools I know to face and possibly overcome any health issue that they may encounter in the future.
I not only love to preserve our heritage, but our health also. I will always do all I can to preserve and heal our family history.

No matter how you feel about healthcare and natural remedies, knowing your family health history can be a great help in preserving your health and that of your loved ones.
If you don't know much about the health issues in your family, I encourage you to do your research. Start by asking your parents, their siblings, your grandparents. You will not only add pages to your family history, but will be on your way to a better health.



If you would like to know more about the essential oils and natural remedies mentioned in this blog post, you can check this facebook page.
https://www.facebook.com/doTERRAmia

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2 comments:

Grant Davis said...

Happy Blogiversary!!

Michelina said...

Thank you Grant! :)

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