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The “C” Word: Four Ways to Creating a Healthy Family Narrative

When we learn about the past, we gather strength for the future. -Hank Smith

Depending on your family dynamic, it can be difficult to feel comfortable bringing up the dreaded “c” word. It’s the word countless generations have danced around in hopes of not jinxing anyone. Some elders have deemed it, “grown folk’s business.” We seem to fear using the word “cancer” as much as the characters in Harry Potter fear using Lord Voldemort’s name. Yet, we need to talk about cancer- our future literally depends on it since our family’s health journey can be a roadmap for our own future health. We recently spoke to Counselor, Simone Banks, M. Ed, LCMHCA, about how to create a healthy family narrative and navigating the tricky family health history conversation.

Create a family health plan that includes telling the truth.

Being honest about your health history only gives future generations the best chance at having whole, happy and healthy lives. Only you can control how you wish to discuss and record your health history with your family. Although it can be emotionally hard, the silver lining is that YOU can be the one to break the generational curse of not sharing.

Homework: Practice what you might say to a family member. Perhaps you found they’ve been in the hospital and didn’t tell anyone about their stay. “I hope you’re recovering well and I also hope in the future you can keep us updated on your health journey,” or “we love you and we want to be aware of the full picture of your health”.

“Knowledge is love, light, and vision.” -Helen Keller

Being honest with family members about your health history and them honestly sharing theirs is a sign that you both want a whole, aware, and empowered family. You may have to have uncomfortable conversations and ask some tough questions. To ease this stress, always focus the conversation on how it will help future generations.

Homework:  Fill out a family health history form with the information of your loved ones. Then use that information when you take Bright Pink’s 5-minute quiz to learn about your risk for breast and ovarian cancer and get your personalized prevention plan.

“Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family.” -Kofi Annan

Once you collect your family’s health history, you will know how to advocate and empower yourself moving forward. Finding out the truth can be overwhelming at times (trust me) and it is important to have a coping/ support plan if needed.

Homework: Use your family health history as a guide to revise your current health plan (or use it as inspiration to create one if you haven’t) with your healthcare provider. Plan all of your health appointments for the year: primary care, gynecologist, dentist, dermatologist, etc. 

“A happy outside comes from a happy inside.” -Henry Urich

There’s power in knowing our own mental health journey as well as getting a clearer picture of your family members’ journeys. It’s common during intake assessments for mental health professionals to ask about your family history with mental health as well as yours. Staying informed and empowered about your family’s mental health journey can help you better understand if you could be susceptible to various mental disorders linked to genetics like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression or panic disorder.

Homework: Talk to your family about mental health; particularly, how is their mental health and what would they like to work on in the next year. 

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