Last year I had one of those milestone birthdays. You know, the one that comes with a colonoscopy. I had my yearly physical and was mailed my lab results. All good with the exception of cholesterol. It was high and my doctor had written a note — “Please make an appointment at your earliest convenience. Your cholesterol levels have reached the level where we should consider medication”. I had glanced at the results and then filed them away — with no intention of making that follow-up appointment.
But this week I pulled the sheet of paper out of the file cabinet and read it again. Then I googled my results to see what exactly was the cause of high cholesterol.
- Fatty and high cholesterol foods – my diet is not perfect, but, compared to most, quite healthy. Every morning for breakfast, I have a smoothie made with kale and turmeric, bananas, Greek yogurt and white beans. Lunch is always a big, leafy green salad. I don’t drink soda or injest much sugar at all.
- Smoking – nope, never have.
- Excessive Drinking – I have a glass of wine with dinner most nights – I don’t even think that qualifies me as a moderate drinker.
- Sedentary lifestyle – I swim laps at a local pool for an hour every weekday.
- Obesity – I’m within ten pound of my ideal weight.
- Age – I haven’t passed that increased risk age yet (55 for women)
- Heredity – Hmmmm.
When you’re adopted, you don’t have the opportunity to ask about family history in casual conversation. Sure, I remember asking my mother about my adopted family history, but it didn’t have the same meaning to me since I wasn’t related by blood.
I had the opportunity to meet my birth parents when I was around thirty. I continued a relationship with my birth father. So, I knew there was a family history of heart disease on his side, but I was more interested in the fact that both my paternal grandmother and I shared the same pattern of severe headaches. For whatever reason, things like heart attacks and cancer didn’t really come up in conversation. My birth father had mentioned once that he had exceptionally high cholesterol and no medicine had been able to lower it, but, I really didn’t think much about it.
Last July, my birth father died of a sudden heart attack.
Just six months later, I received news that my 68 year old birth mother died of a stroke-like episode.
With that news, I also learned that stroke is rampant in my maternal family – the cause of death for several family members. My maternal grandmother had her first stroke when she was in her 50’s.
It is very surreal — as the child of two teen parents, I never expected to be (biologically) orphaned at age 50. That sheet of paper with my annual blood test results held more meaning to me. I have a genetic map of both of my parents (to most people, that’s not a big deal. But, trust me, to an adoptee, it’s something that most of us never think that we will have). When you’re adopted, you can either go crazy with every little health issue wondering if it’s in your family genetics, or you can just kind of pretend that you don’t actually have a history. Most of my life, I’ve pretty much assumed that I was a child of superheroes. Since I didn’t know my family history, I just assumed that I had the genes to live until I was at least 110. Even when I received a diagnosis of a rare cancer years ago, I took it in stride. After all, I had superpower genes.
But now I know. Not only were my biological parents not superheroes, they both passed away many years before they should have. I’m angry, sad and all of those stages of grief about what could have been. I had looked forward to spending more time with my biological father as my own kids became older and I had more time to travel (he lived in another state). And even though I didn’t continue a relationship with my birth mother, every few years I’d do some internet snooping to see if I could find out where she was living or what she was doing. I always thought that the door was still opened a little bit and we might connect again some day.
So what does that mean for me going forward?
I know I will continue to try not to take anything in life for granted.
I’ve often thought about a line in one of my favorite plays – Our Town by Thorton Wilder.
Emily asks, “Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you….Does anyone ever realize life while they live it…every, every minute?”
The Stage Manager replies, “No. Saints and poets maybe…they do some.”
Do I make that follow up appointment to discuss my high cholesterol?
I don’t know. I think I’ll hold off, but, for now, I will try to alter my diet and take some supplements to see if they have any effect.
But this I will do: I will watch those snowflakes dance towards the ground and I will stop and watch the sun set beyond the horizon. I will take time to go to the ocean, to hike that mountain and to appreciate everything in my life just a little bit more.