Genetics and Getting Older

Cranky maskMy doctor said one time when I was thirty, “So what could be wrong with this 30-year-old body?” He meant that I was about 20 years younger than he was and medically speaking it would be unusual for anything serious to be wrong with me. I don’t even recall why I went to see him but I am pretty sure it was nothing at all.

But now on the “Pass Go” side of fifty, I have already seen some signs of my genetic heritage; namely skin cancer which unfortunately is both a family-thing and a sun-worshipper-climate thing. Melanoma showed up in a mole on my arm back in ’95 and now basal cell carcinoma has appeared on my right ear. Both types of cancer are present in the family tree, not to mention some even more unsavory types which I hope I’ve escaped the gene lottery for.

I’m finding as I age that these genetic defects are starting to emerge and I can see why my uncle used to say, “Growing old isn’t for sissies.” Now that’s not a politically correct way to say it these days but the fundamental truth is that growing old means dealing with a lot of pain and physical infirmities that we didn’t know as youngsters. If you’re going to survive to a nice cranky old age, you need to be tough and able to endure a little discomfort.

I’ve been impressed with the way the older folks in my family handle illness and disease. They’re a lot tougher than I ever would have thought. My Dad has had a lot of procedures and a major surgery and I never heard a single whining complaint from him about it. Oh sure Mom is a bit of a wimp about the dentist but then who likes going to the dentist? Overall, I have been hugely impressed with the older generation’s ability to stoically endure pain and discomfort. No problem, just keep trekking forward.

My grandmother had terrible arthritis and she lived alone into her 90‘s almost until the day she died. She loved her independence, she loved her home and she didn’t want to be a burden on anyone else so she toughed it out alone. And I heard she loved to play gin rummy and would rap you on the legs under the table with her cane if you beat her.

I guess in the end I have to be thankful about the good genes I got than the bad ones. I may end up dying of cancer some day but I’m pretty sure that I’ll be like my favorite uncle who comforted us while we grieved his impending passing. I got some tough genes from my family tree, along with a few that sort of tick-tick-tick.