Prior to this course, and reading a few chapters out of Talking About Health by Roxanne Parrott, I had always believed that the word “normal” when being used to describe a person, or in this case a person’s health, had the same meaning as healthy. I would tend to believe that the things that I was doing, such as binge drinking in my early 20s, would not negatively affect me if someone were to say, “Oh that’s normal! Everyone does it at your age!”
“Normal” health practices and lifestyle ways have skewed meaning depending on your culture or family upbringing. In my house hold, it always seemed like the men in my family never went to the doctor. My grandfather and my father would talk about new aches and pains at the dinner table during holidays and act as if every problem they faced was just temporary or a normal part of getting older. It was almost like being a man in my household came with the strength and general intuition needed to take care of one’s self without the professional opinion of some doctor who just wanted your money.
It was “normal” in my family, as a male, to smoke cigarettes. The drive-way of my house, or at any family event, has always been the place where the men gather to drink beer and smoke cigarettes while talking about just about anything from sports to cars. Subsequently, this pushed me to grab onto a pack of cigarettes as early as I could at the age of 16. I had planned to quit before it was a lifetime habit, maybe before I was 25, but it was normal, right? Everyone in my family did it and they were doing just fine so I followed the norm and smoked cigarettes while never visiting the doctor.
All this changed about three years ago when my grandfather began to feel sick for weeks on end. After finally being forced to make an appointment with a doctor by the women in my family, he learned that he had stage 4 prostate cancer that had spread to his bones and just about everywhere else in his body. At the age of 76, he had no choice but to let the cancer kill him. We were told over and over again that, had he gone to the doctor and received the recommended prostate exam that all men are recommended to get starting from age 40-50 years old, the cancer could have been catch and maintained in the early stages. My grandfather died at the age of 77.
The commonly confusing idea of “normal” in the world of personal health, combined with the optimistic thinking that most people have about their own health, cost my grandfather five, ten, maybe even 15 years of more of his life. I had to decide then, before this class gave me a better understanding of its complexity, what “normal” was going to mean to me when it came to my health. I chose to quit smoking and begin paying more attention to what my body is saying to me in the hopes of avoiding what was “normal” to my family.