Yesterday I passed my semi-annual breast exam with an “all’s clear” from the doctor!

Thanks be to God!

And thanks be to my own good choices over the past twenty years!

Hereditary and genetic predisposition for diseases like cancer can’t be altered–although researchers in the fields of epigenetics and psychoneuroimmunology are working on it–but how we live each day significantly impacts our risk. Research indicates that where we live, what we eat & drink, the quality of our relationships, how we manage stress, exercise and many other choices we make each day profoundly affect disease onset as well as our ability to recover.

An Example of Self-Neglect

Growing up with a mother who neglected her health gave me a good example of what not to do.

Moira Diedre Ford & Moira-Cecily Brady 1983

A diagnosis of breast cancer in her sixties did little to change her lifestyle. In fact, even after a second round of breast cancer followed by lung cancer a few years later, she smoked her Virgina Slim cigarettes right up until her last days of life.

In her last weeks of life she was confined to bed and on respiratory assistance. Yet, several times a day she’d rally the energy and strength to get out to her balcony for a smoke lest she blow up the entire house by lighting up in the vicinity of the oxygen tanks!

Mom had courageously overcome other addictions but remained a slave of nicotine until her final breath. Sadly, her cigarettes were her “precious” delight, her tonic for what ailed her, what she valued more than life itself to some degree.

Addictions do that to us. The immediate gratifications of soothed anxiety, numbed pain, and avoided interpersonal conflicts, lure us into a state of forgetfulness about our deepest values and highest aspirations.

Waking Up to My Own Need for Self-Care

My breast cancer diagnosis at age 30 woke me up to the way I’d been using alcohol to cope with mom’s dying. It was painful to visit her. My arrival was often her excuse for a smoke. “Help me up and we’ll have a visit on the balcony” she’d say with both a genuine gladness to see me and a sense of relief that she could get her fix. The last six months of her life I’d often pick up a six-pack on my way to visit and nurse a beer while she smoked her cigarette. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Six weeks after her death I received my wake up call. “Early stage…micro-invasive in-situ breast cancer…less than 5% chance of occurrence…” — none of that mattered. To me, it was cancer. And my early research indicated a correlation between alcohol use/overuse/abuse and breast cancer. Having watched my mom make poor choices for her own health, I choose a different path.

Me & Mom in a Box 1984 - Remarkable & Silly Mother

My mother was an amazing woman whose life inspired me in many ways. Her intelligence, humor, generosity, charm and diversity of friendships with men and women from all walks of life are gifts that continue to inform my development. I am forever grateful for those blessings.

Today, I also give thanks for the twisted blessings of her imperfections. I saw the damage her midlife struggle with addictions did to her well-being as well as the ways it undermined my own adolescent development. I’m grateful that my wake up calls came in my young adult years and I had her life as a model of what I didn’t want to become. I’m grateful that observing the consequences of her self-neglect inspired me to make self-care a priority. I imagine my mom is delighted that I’ve chosen the path I have. And for that, I am also grateful.

A Daily Choice

To choose a different path than those we grow up experiencing takes courage, determination and support. If your models for self-care were less than optimal, let them become inspiration for choosing a more loving way for yourself.

Find new role models. Surround yourself with people who take care of themselves and you’re more likely to do so yourself. And beware of spending too much time with those stuck in cycles of self-neglect or destructive patterns. Behaviors are contagious.

Enlist your friends, family, co-workers to support you in better self-care. One of my coaching clients gathered a group of her co-workers for a lunchtime health coaching group that I’m facilitating. Another client joined a workout studio that builds community support for fitness by creating a family atmosphere among the members.

Self-care or self-neglect. Which will you choose today?