As part of my Dear Carolyn series of posts featuring my readers’ unique stories on what it’s like to become a heart patient, this one involves a woman with not one but several medical diagnoses. When distressing symptoms were initially diagnosed by her oncologist as lymphoedema (a condition sometimes associated with cancer treatments), her first response was: “My future looks positively bleak.” But when she finally heard the corrected diagnosis of heart failure from an internal medicine specialist one year following her chemo treatments and radiation, her surprising reaction was this:
“I just about hugged the internist when he told me it wasn’t lymphoedema after all – it was just my heart! I thought he’d given me my life back again. And he had! Like receiving my own Magna Carta. And in a single week, with the help of my new cardiac medications, off came the 30 extra pounds of fluid I’d been hauling around.”
That was certainly a first for me (somebody thrilled by a heart failure diagnosis!?) Today’s Dear Carolyn letter focuses on a favourite subject of mine: resilience in the face of a medical crisis, and it starts with a woman known to us simply as Honey Bee:
“I am writing to thank you for your book. I was delighted to learn that you are a Canadian, too. I live in Toronto. With no pension (aside from the government ones), my savings are now my source of income. I’m a widow in my 60s, no family, a survivor of both stage three cancer and congestive heart failure, and am presently living with atrial fibrillation and sleep apnea. That sounds rather ominous on paper!!!
“But, in spite of almost no physical strength, I am having the time of my life!
“I am learning to pace myself. I do what replenishes my energy, rather than what depletes it. I see my own cardiologist twice a year. And he orders all the testing: ECG, echocardiogram, Holter Monitor. I was monitored for a few years with decreasing frequency at the Cardiology Clinic at my hospital. Now I know how to monitor myself.
“My cardiologist even gave me the green light for flying. So I have been to Europe twice, and hope to go again in June. “Gentle” aerobics classes are still beyond me, but I do what I can. I can travel and keep up with the tour group. I can walk and climb stairs. I can move. I am not in pain.
- – like the light and flaky egg custard tarts that a nearby Chinese bakery concocts fresh every day
- – like a Starbucks latté while seated before their fireplace in a comfy armchair with a book
- – like calming music: adagios, cello, Taize songs, nature sounds and tones at 432 HZ for relaxation
- – like the structure, dignity, and beauty of the Liturgy on Sunday mornings
- – like exploring and going on little adventures
- – I go line dancing once a week.
- – I just joined a walking club.
- – I belong to a book club.
- – I am a Tafelmusik subscriber (last night it was all Beethoven, pure bliss).
- – I hope to travel to Wales next month.
- – I attend luncheons for seniors (three a month).
- – I have a monthly chiropractic appointment.
- – I have a monthly massage.
- – I have just discovered a wonderful reflexologist.
- – I love discovering new venues and events and people.
- – I read every spare minute.
- – I listen to inspiring TED talks, the latest one was by Dr. Rangan Chatterjee, MD, and I have requested his book at the library.
- – Now that the warmer weather has arrived, I have had ‘patio therapy’ (and the sunshine vitamin) three times so far this week, to sit and just ‘be’.
- – If I need Rest and Recovery Days, I take them, without guilt, for as long as I need to. I listen to the wisdom of my body.
– I continue to learn. I just completed a nine-week course (two evenings a week) in German with the Goethe Institute, and then I celebrated with a pedicure and lunch at a crêperie!
– I am becoming more aware of my responses and am learning emotional fluency.
– I refuse to be ‘used’ and am learning to say NO! Yes, I am still very gentle, but inside those velvet gloves, there is steel.
– This month, I am attending: a Bach Festival, a retreat day, a dinner and dance, an Ascension Day dinner and talk, Fridays at the Foster (musical evenings), and beginning a series of lectures on Catherine the Great and the Hermitage.
- Cheryl Richardson’s book, The Art of Extreme Self Care, was an amazingly helpful book to me.
- When the Body Says No by Dr. Gabor Maté, MD of Vancouver. It changed my life. I learned that learning to say NO is a matter of life and death.
Tim Grover’s book, Relentless: From Good to Great to Unstoppable is about the basketball icons, but the transferable wisdom is limitless. I just finish it, and then pick it up again. It is now my third time through, and this time I am taking notes.
…and a book that inspired me to make the effort to “get out there”. Susan Pinker’s book The Village Effect: How Face-to-Face Contact Can Make Us Healthier and Happier – another delightful Canadian. Teaches at McGill.
Q: What ‘petits plaisirs’ (small pleasures) help to make this the “time of your life” – in spite of your diagnosis?
NOTE FROM CAROLYN: Thank you to Nancy Stordahl, who writes about breast cancer on her Nancy’s Point blog, and is also the author of several books including “Cancer Was Not a Gift and it Didn’t Make Me a Better Person.” She not only wrote a lovely review of my new book, “A Woman’s Guide to Living with Heart Disease” (find out why a breast cancer blogger wanted to review a book about heart disease!) but Nancy also offered a contest to her readers to win the book. The lucky winner was Honey Bee – which is how I came to learn her story!
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