Holidays may be the right time for family health chats: Joan Lunden shares key tips

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

Yet surveying loved ones about their private health backgrounds or battles can be awkward.

Longtime television personality and health advocate Joan Lunden spoke to Fox News Digital about why the holidays may be the best time of year to spark this kind of conversation — and how to do so with grace.

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

“It’s critical to understanding your health risks,” she said.

Joan Lunden is shown during a "Today" show appearance in March 2020. She spent nearly two decades as a host of "Good Morning America." She is an ardent health and seniors advocate. 

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

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

Aside from 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 had significant health issues.

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

“And you need to start your mammograms 10 years prior [to that].”

A grandmother and granddaughter hold hands. "If somebody in your family has had breast cancer, you need to know at what age that cancer was diagnosed," Lunden told Fox News Digital. 

A grandmother and granddaughter hold hands. “If somebody in your family has had breast cancer, you need to know at what age that cancer was diagnosed,” Lunden told Fox News Digital. 
(iStock)

Lunden mentioned that sometimes it “takes a little doing” to get this kind of private information out of relatives, especially when there’s still a generation of people who feel inclined to keep their chronic illnesses under wraps.

National Family Health History Day lands on the same day as Thanksgiving this year — Nov. 24, 2022 — so it may be the perfect time for family members to lay it all on the table, she suggested.

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

“Pull them aside,” she said. “Get that little intimate moment together with your relatives and get this really critical information to protect yourself.”

A daughter holds her mom's hands while having a heart-to-heart talk. It’s important for people to get "comfortable having uncomfortable conversations," said Joan Lunden's oldest daughter, Jamie Hess. 

A daughter holds her mom’s hands while having a heart-to-heart talk. It’s important for people to get “comfortable having uncomfortable conversations,” said Joan Lunden’s oldest daughter, Jamie Hess. 
(iStock)

Lunden’s oldest daughter, Jamie Hess, joined in and said it’s important for people to get “comfortable having uncomfortable conversations.”

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During holiday time, Hess suggested asking relatives for the gift of time — to sit down and share medical records and insight that can be potentially lifesaving to others.

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

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

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

Lunden agreed the greatest gift that 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 young.

“These are memories that are so important,” said Lunden. 

“What greater gift could there be than that?”

“Ask, ‘What was your courtship like?’ ‘What was I like as a little child?’” 

She added, “Ask them some of these questions while they still can answer you, while they still have their cognitive abilities.”

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After the conversation gets going, Lunden suggested people try weaving in questions about family members’ health backgrounds.

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“They’ll be much more inclined to be forthcoming with that kind of medical history,” she said.

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


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