Fated for Illness

Most of the time we just take it for granted. We don’t even think about it. We usually have other, more pressing matters on our mind.

And most of the time we can get away with it. It’s not an issue. We can get on with our lives.

And then it strikes. We can suddenly be struck down by illness. I don’t mean catching a cold or having an upset stomach. I’m referring to those life changing conditions that can be so devastating; cancer, stroke, heart attack, dementia.

Although many are treatable, each is life changing, meaning you may never again be the person you were.

Sometimes you will hear on the news of an accident where the person has received “life-changing injuries”. It’s a clear indication that it’s serious. “Life-changing illnesses” are no different. They devastate, they destroy, they dominate. As they so accurately describe, they change lives.

One moment life is normal; the next moment it is changed beyond belief. Transformed. Never the same again. The carpet is ripped from under you and you tumble into a nether world; into a life governed by your illness; a life dominated by your condition; a life that can only continue in the shadow of your affliction.

Hospital visits, check-ups, scans, daily medications, mobility restrictions, exercise routines, emotional frailties…..

It can seem arbitrary as to who it will strike, when it will strike, how severely it will strike. But, most certainly, as we get older its looming threat increases.

Our lifestyle choices may or may not determine whether we succumb to one of these conditions. There are no clear, definitive rules. Smoking, drinking alcohol, over-eating, a sedentary life does not mean that you will be attacked by one of these illnesses – though it does increase the odds.

And, on the contrary, clean living does not offer any assurances for a long and healthy life. It just doesn’t work like that.

However good we are in terms of our lifestyle choices there may be nothing we can do to fend off the danger of an attack on our health. We can try to evade the onslaught but there can be no guarantees that we can avoid it altogether. It may be out of our control. If we have a vulnerability, then we are pre-disposed to an assault. Our susceptibility will lie within us, within our genes. It’s life’s ultimate lottery. What genes have we been dealt? What weaknesses do we carry?

How fragile, how tenuous is our existence! We live or die, thrive or suffer on the basis of our genetic make-up.

The human body is an incredibly resilient, adaptive machine. A biological miracle genetically fashioned over millions of years. And yet it is still prone to weakness.

When you’re young and have that feeling of invulnerability, you don’t think too much about your health. Life is for living. There are so many other things that are seemingly of more importance; work, dating, career, children, money.

But, with time, your health starts to creep up the priority agenda. You begin to realise how important it is. This may become especially poignant as it is brought home to you when you see other people, close family and friends, succumb to its vagaries or when you have children and you realise how dependent they are on your well-being.

If only there was more that could be done, more armour that you could wear. If only we could guard against these debilitating conditions.

The future may hold some answers. Genetic testing may enable us to identify whether or not we have a disposition that makes us vulnerable to particular conditions. This may mean we can adapt our lifestyle to ward off any dangers. We can be more preventative in our lifestyles, more focussed on protecting ourselves against a clear, identifiable aggressor.

We may have a genetic weakness, but that weakness may only show itself if we put ourselves in a position that gives it a chance to flourish. So, forearmed is forewarned. We don’t go into the cave if we know there’s a bear in there. In fact, if there’s a bear in the vicinity, and we know about it, then we can build a fence to protect ourselves.

Too often, unless we see the bear, we don’t really take its presence all that seriously. By then, of course, we can be too late. The damage is done.

There may be times when our genetic masters seem harsh, cruel, even unrelenting in decreeing our fates but, whenever possible, we should seek to resist their will and not give them the opportunity to take actions which bring afflictions upon us.

In practical terms that means avoiding certain environments, avoiding exposures to dangerous products, to building up resistances. If you don’t give them the chance to show themselves then it makes it more difficult for them to do so.

Of course, there are no guarantees. Sometimes the fates can just be cruel. Whatever some of us do is insufficient, ineffective or inexpedient. This does not, however, discharge us from our own personal responsibility. The human body is a marvel that has to be admired but it should not be taken for granted. We should take more care of it.

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