“Very different from other heart books”: my Q&A with Johns Hopkins University Press


by Carolyn Thomas    @HeartSisters

At some point during the two-year adventure of writing my book, A Woman’s Guide to Living with Heart Disease, an author questionnaire arrived from my publisher’s marketing staff at Johns Hopkins University Press, including this request: “Sometimes a conversation is the best way to introduce a book/author. Please answer the following questions:”

Q: What were some of the most surprising things you learned while writing/researching this book?

A:  My book is based on excerpts from some of the hundreds of Heart Sisters blog articles. What surprised me most was how certain topics had attracted an avalanche of reader responses compared to others. The most popular were invariably articles in which I wrote about the profound psychosocial impact of being overwhelmed by a life-altering diagnosis. So when deciding on which topics should go into my book, I looked for reader responses that started, “I thought I was the only one who felt this way until I read this. . .”

♥ Q: What is new about your book that sets it apart from other books in the field?

A:  This book is very different from other heart books. First of all, it’s written by a heart patient, not by a cardiologist. It’s partly a dramatic personal narrative about what it’s like to survive a misdiagnosed heart attack, partly an overview of the often-dismissed psychological fallout that heart patients can expect along the relatively predictable road to recovery, and partly a patient-friendly, jargon-free, plain-English translation of important scientific research on women’s heart disease.

When I was first diagnosed, I was desperate to learn more about what had just happened to me. I wasn’t looking for books about bad cholesterol or heart-healthy recipes. I wanted to find a book written for a woman like me, by a woman like me. The book I wrote is that book I couldn’t find as a freshly-diagnosed heart patient.  And I like evidence, so I’ve included hundreds of medical journal citations when quoting studies. On my Heart Sisters blog, I’ve spent years compiling a huge jargon-free, patient-friendly glossary of complex cardiology terms – a really useful resource that I’m thrilled to say is now part of my book, too.

♥ Q: Did you encounter any eye-opening statistics while writing your book?

A:  All statistics about women and cardiovascular disease are eye-opening! For example:

  • women heart patients are more likely to be underdiagnosed – and then undertreated even when appropriately diagnosed – compared to our male counterparts
  • cardiovascular disease causes 1 in 3 women’s deaths each year in North America, killing approximately one woman every 80 seconds
  • cardiovascular disease kills 5-6 times more women every year than breast cancer does
  • cardiovascular disease kills more women every year than all forms of cancer combined
  • until recently, most cardiac research over the past four decades has been done either exclusively on (white, middle-aged) male subjects, or with fewer than 20% female subjects studied (and most cardiac studies on animals have used only male lab animals)
  • women are twice as likely as men to die within one year after surviving a heart attack
  • women who have experienced pregnancy complications like preeclampsia are twice as likely to develop cardiovascular disease (a preeclampsia history, in fact, is now considered to be as serious a cardiac risk factor as a failed treadmill stress test)
  • the rate of sudden cardiac death of young women in their 30s and 40s is increasing much faster than in men of the same age, rising 30% in the last decade
  • 90% of out-of-hospital cardiac arrests in North America are fatal
  • although smoking rates are declining overall (18% of white women, 13% of black women and 7% of Hispanic women now smoke), 1/3 of cardiovascular disease deaths are still attributable to smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke
  • barely 17% of women meet the current Federal Physical Activity Guidelines
  • 90% of women have one or more risk factors for cardiovascular disease
  • 80% of cardiovascular disease events may be prevented by lifestyle changes

♥ Q: What is the single most important fact revealed in your book and why is it significant?

  A:  There are far too many significant facts in this book to be able to pick just one!

♥ Q: How do you envision the lasting impact of your book?

A:  I like to imagine that the women who read it will be able to recognize their own unique experiences in this book–no matter what the specific diagnosis–and feel less alone while coping with a health crisis. And I hope that physicians, nurses and healthcare professionals will also read this book, as Dr. Barbara Keddy says in her wonderful review, “as a lesson about listening to and taking seriously the voices of female patients.”

♥  Q: What do you hope people will take away from reading your book?

  A: I hope that the overall take away message here will be that women must stop putting themselves last on their own priority lists when it comes to surviving a health crisis. For example, we know that women consistently delay seeking emergency treatment (yes, even in mid-heart attack as I did!) far more frequently than our male counterparts do. So I remind women to ask yourself what you would do if your symptoms were happening to your daughter, or your sister, or your Mum, or to any other woman you care about. Then seek–and demand!–that same care for yourself. You know your body, and you know when something is just not right. Respect that little warning voice inside!

Find out more about news, reviews or events involving my book. You can ask for it at your local bookshop or public library, or order it online (paperback, hardcover or e-book) at Amazon – or order it directly from my publisher, Johns Hopkins University Press (use their code HTWN to save 30% off the list price). And if you’ve purchased your copy online, please don’t forget to leave a Customer Review (at Amazon or Barnes and Noble). 


See also:

A Woman’s Guide to Living With Heart Disease: my blog-turned-book project!

Dr. Martha Gulati’s fabulous foreword to my book

“Best narrative I have ever encountered on this topic”

Can’t wait to start reading my book? Here’s Chapter 1!

Book reviews

9 thoughts on ““Very different from other heart books”: my Q&A with Johns Hopkins University Press

  1. Dear Carolyn,

    I too look for your blog as a part of my Sunday morning. Regarding heart disease and mis-diagnoses…I was not the ‘patient’, I was the WITNESS and since my younger sister’s death twenty years ago this year, I find comfort in knowing you live and write and speak about women for women and for others.

    I miss my sister. I was there when she was sent home from the emergency room and told she was having a panic attack and given valium and birth control pills and told to just calm down when I knew there was something seriously wrong with her and no one was listening.

    And then she had the mega-stroke at age 45. Her ‘heart’ experience and my own witnessing of what happened to her inspired me to create a small social enterprise here in the UK. I teach women to care for themselves, to trust their intuition, to begin to understand the territory of aging and learn self care and research skills to be pro-active in their lives.

    My sister was 45 when she died in 1997. Women in mid-life today are especially challenged as more and more is expected of them in the DOing department and they, quite naturally, but not rightly, put themselves last in terms of self care.

    When I read your blog I feel like I am in a café, at a big table, and you happen to be the one talking and leading the discussion but I feel I am there…with you…and you are with me…every time I teach a class or go the doctor myself.

    You are a blogANGEL with the right ANGLE on women keeping in touch with our heart’s – physically, emotionally and mentally, and I am grateful.

    I include information on your book and your blog in my teaching materials so women I come in contact with know about you and your work and your focus.

    Bravo, Carolyn! It is in my experience that we need at least ONE witness to make a change in our behaviour and to encourage us to make new positive choices. Your blog is a witness to me as WITNESS of what happened to Polly, my sister.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Isabella for sharing such a profoundly moving experience, and for your kind words about my blog. What a tragedy to go through your sister Polly’s death at such a young age… You are so right: women in middle age seem to be prime candidates for putting themselves last on their priority list. Women have been socialized to put the needs of others ahead of our own, to be nice, to not make a fuss. When men are congratulated for being bold and decisive, women are called nasty names for being the same.

      I am hopeful that younger women will NOT put up with what far too many of us have politely chosen to. Thanks once again for your very nice message.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Is it possible to subscribe to Dr. Barbara Keddy’s blog? I also have had Fibromyalgia for 40 years, 2 stents in LAD with angina to follow. Would like to follow her. I really enjoy Heart Sisters on Sunday mornings, Thank you. Even more since my daughter had a heart attack this Spring at 58. She also has much difficulty with fibro.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Abby – your story illustrates mother-daughter sharing in ways that none of us Mums ever plan for! Your daughter’s the same age I was when I had my heart attack too (= too young!)

      I’m not sure if Dr. Keddy’s blog has a ‘subscribe’ feature (I couldn’t find it – but you could contact her directly through her blog to ask her to install one!) She also has a terrific book called “Women and Fibromyalgia: Living With an Invisible Dis-Ease” (order info here). Best of luck to you and your daughter…


  3. I love this book and blog. After I had my bypass surgery, I was the only young, white woman in cardiac rehab, in any of the waiting rooms. There were no books, (and believe me, I searched) that discussed the experience of women.

    Now there is, and it is packed with useful information, validation and support.

    Thank you, Carolyn!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks so much, Dr. Anne, for your touching response. It’s exactly what I had hoped other heart patients might feel while I was writing this book, and to read it from a person who is both a physician and a heart patient is THE BEST! I hope those cardiac rehab waiting rooms will one day be jam-packed with women, too! ♥

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Carolyn, I know you are aware of the impact your blog has – I look forward to it every Sunday morning – first thing I read with my cup of coffee.

    But your book touched me to the core. I remember feeling exactly the way you describe your feelings were right after your diagnosis and the bumpy recovery. Thank you so much for putting into words what we (women cardiac patients) feel during the crisis and following our cardiac event.

    It’s been 15 years for me since my MI and if there is a blessing in all this, it’s the strength and love given to me by my WomenHeart sisters. It’s helped me “make it through” some tough times and I know your book will be a blessing and a source of strength to any who read it – we’re not alone – we have each other.

    Thanks for your labor of love!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Peggy, what a lovely way to start my morning – with your kind and eloquent comment. And I love to picture you sitting there on Sunday mornings in New York state, far away on the other side of the continent from me, with your cup of coffee and reading what I’m writing – thank you so much! ♥

      Readers: to learn more about the WomenHeart Science & Leadership Symposium at Mayo Clinic that both Peggy and I were fortunate to attend (she in 2003, me five years later) read this.


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