The holidays can be the perfect time for a family health chat: Joan Lunden shares key tips

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Knowing your health risks often starts with knowing your family’s health history.

Yet surveying loved ones about their personal health background or war can be awkward.

Longtime television personality and health advocate Joan Lunden spoke with LBL Digital about why the holidays might be the best time of year to start these kinds of conversations — and how to do it with grace.

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A breast cancer survivor herself, Lunden describes herself as a “huge advocate” of knowing one’s family health history.

“It’s important to understand your health risks,” she said.

Joan Lunden is shown during an appearance on the “Today” show in March 2020. He spent nearly two decades as the host of “Good Morning America.” He is an ardent health and senior advocate.
(Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

Knowing one’s family health history, however, goes beyond just family members.

In addition to checking in with parents and grandparents or learning their health stories, it’s just as important to check in with aunts, uncles, and other relatives who may have health issues.

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“If someone in your family has had breast cancer, you need to know at what age the cancer was diagnosed,” Lunden said.

“And you have to start your mammograms 10 years earlier [to that]”

A grandmother and granddaughter holding hands. “If someone in your family has had breast cancer, you need to know at what age the cancer was diagnosed,” Lunden told LBL Digital.
(iStock)

Lunden noted that sometimes it “takes a little bit of work” to get that kind of personal information out of relatives, especially when there’s still a generation eager to keep their chronic illnesses under wraps.

Since National Family Health History Day lands on the same day as Thanksgiving this year — Nov. 24, 2022 — it might be a good time for family members to put it on the table, she suggests.

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“It’s incredibly important for them to give you this information,” Lunden said.

“Pull them aside,” he said. “Get that little intimate moment with your loved ones and get this really important information to protect yourself.”

A girl holds her mother's hand while having a heart-to-heart talk.  It is important for people

A girl holds her mother’s hand while having a heart-to-heart talk. Jamie Hess, Joan Lunden’s older daughter, says it’s important for people to “be comfortable having uncomfortable conversations.”
(iStock)

Lunden’s older daughter, Jamie Hess, joined in and said it’s important for people to be “comfortable with uncomfortable conversations.”

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As the holidays approach, Hess suggests asking relatives for the gift of time — to sit down and share medical records and insights that could be potentially life-saving for others.

Joan Lunden and her daughter Jamie Hess.  The greatest gift aging relatives can give to others in the family is their health history, the pair said.

Joan Lunden and her daughter Jamie Hess. The greatest gift aging relatives can give to others in the family is their health history, the pair said.
(Daphne Urie)

“What if the gift you wanted this holiday season was an hour of your time?” she said. “What greater gift could there be?”

Lunden agrees that the greatest gift aging relatives can give others in their family is their health history — as well as revelations and insights into what the world was like when they were younger.

“These are such important memories,” Lunden said.

“What greater gift could there be?”

“Ask, ‘How was your date?’ ‘What was I like as a child?’

He adds, “Ask them some of these questions while they can still answer you, despite their cognitive abilities.”

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Once the conversation starts, Lunden suggests that people try to weave in questions about their health background.

“They will be much more inclined to be forthcoming with that kind of medical history,” he said.

Based in New York, Joan Lunden is an award-winning journalist, a best-selling author, and a visiting professor at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania.

The holidays can be the perfect time for a family health chat: Joan Lunden shares key tips

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