by Marilynn Preston
Part of being healthy is learning that something unhealthy is going on in your body and deciding what to say about it – to family, to friends and maybe to the press.
In the recent and heavily publicized case of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the issue is a weighty one. Is he too fat to be president? “Morbidly obese” is not the kind of diagnosis you want circulating on your medical chart, even though it’s part of our expanding world.
At some point in his health struggle, Christie decided to have lap band surgery. It can’t have been an easy decision. For one thing, it’s surgery. When you weigh as much as the hospital bed, the risks go up. And lap band surgery is still one of those controversial procedures. It helps some people; it hurts others.
But that’s what Christie chose. He also wanted to keep it a secret.
Another example of celebrity decision-making is Angelina Jolie’s very public explanation of her decision to have a preventive double mastectomy.
In a bold and startling op-ed piece in The New York Times three months later, Jolie wrote movingly about hearing she had an 87 percent chance of developing breast cancer, and how she could reduce those odds to 5 percent by choosing to have a difficult, complicated surgery.
Making it so public is another decision she made, because now everyone knows she had her breasts removed. Wherever she goes, people will be trying to sneak a peek. It’s only natural. To her credit, Jolie knows all that, and she went public with it anyway. Anyone who reads what she wrote will understand there are bigger issues at stake.
In the aftermath of “My Medical Decision,” Angelina Jolie has been called brave, naive, brilliant, heroic, misleading and more, but one thing is certain: She is a catalyst to a discussion that we should all be having on the path to a healthier, happier life:
Who will you tell, and how will you tell it? Will you go on Caring Bridge and blog every detail? Or will you keep it to a tight circle of family and friends, because that’s what feels good to you?
Gov. Christie was, let’s say, light on transparency. He kept his surgery a secret until a newspaper reporter threatened to out him. Now, three months later, he’s 40 pounds lighter and willing to talk.
Roger Ebert was thumbs-up about every detail of his medical issues, grim as they were. He told us everything about his cancers, his surgeries, how it felt to lose the ability to eat, even his fearlessness about death. It was his way of coping, and many of his friends and fans expressed their appreciation.
Nora Ephron – the much loved writer and director whose death shocked so many last June – chose a different path after she was diagnosed six years ago with MD
According to a tender New York Times magazine article by her son Jacob Bernstein, Ephron took selective treatments, but she kept it very quiet. She didn’t want people looking at her and seeing poor Nora with a dreaded disease. Instead, she wanted to keep working, and keep living, and keep her diagnosis pretty much a secret, until the end.
But when the end came, some of her dearest pals were pissed. They didn’t get a chance to say goodbye. If only they’d known; if only she had shared. Jacob said his mother completed 100 blog posts, two books and two plays, and directed a movie in her last six years. That’s how she shared, by using her creative gifts and living her best life, as she defined it.
In my own family, I’ve seen it all. And I accept it all. Some of my loved ones blog every bit of their medical journey – right down to swollen nipples and leaky bladders – while others decide to say nothing at all.
In the end, no one gets out alive. Many of us will face a devastating diagnosis. That’s when you’ll want to pay very close attention to what you yourself need. Don’t copy another person’s plan just because it’s well presented. That would be a very sad outcome of Jolie’s good intentions.
ENERGY EXPRESS-O! HER WAY
“The thing is, you can’t really turn a fatal illness into a joke.” Nora Ephron
Marilynn Preston — fitness expert, well-being coach and speaker on healthy lifestyle issues — is the creator of Energy Express, the longest-running syndicated fitness column in the country. Visit her website http://marilynnpreston.com.