Eight questions from Nancy about my blog

Screen Shot 2018-08-11 at 12.19.19 PMby Carolyn Thomas     @HeartSisters

I have never had breast cancer, and I don’t write about breast cancer (a recent exception here). But I noticed soon after launching this Heart Sisters blog that a surprising number of women with breast cancer were reading, subscribing and responding to my blog articles on women’s heart disease. One of my favourites in this group was author and breast cancer activist Nancy Stordahl, who blogs about breast cancer over at Nancy’s PointNancy and I have agreed over the years that the traumatic experience of facing a catastrophic diagnosis is shared by many, no matter what that medical condition may be.

So when Nancy invited me to participate in her annual 2020 Summer Blogging Challenge, I was pleased to oblige one of my favourite bloggers by answering the eight questions that she asked about my blog:    .    . 

1. Who are you? Tell us about you and your blog.

“I live on the beautiful west coast of Canada in Victoria, just down the road from my darling 5-year old granddaughter, Everly Rose. (And yes, it’s all true what they say about grandbabies being the BEST THING EVER!)  I spent my entire 35+ year career in the public relations field working in corporate, government and non-profit sectors – ranging from Mercedes-Benz to the Salvation Army. In all those years, I never had a job I didn’t love. But in 2008, I somehow survived what doctors call the “widow maker” heart attack, despite being misdiagnosed with acid reflux and sent home from the Emergency Department with textbook heart attack symptoms.

“I started my blog Heart Sisters the following year. At the time, I’d been presenting my free 90-minute Pinot & Prevention’ public talks on women’s heart health, based on what I’d learned along with 45 other heart patients attending the annual WomenHeart Science & Leadership Symposium for Women With Heart Disease at Mayo Clinic.  I launched a small 3-page website just to help answer frequent questions about how to book one of my talks. Then I started adding articles, one by one. Lots of articles!  Most were about emerging research on women’s heart disease, or the most common questions my audiences were asking, or what’s known as the cardiology gender gap (particularly important to me because of my own experience being misdiagnosed in mid-heart attack, which happens far more to women than it does if you were a man presenting with my symptoms).

2. What has been your biggest blogging challenge during this pandemic, and how have you been tackling it (or trying to)?

“The COVID- 19 pandemic hit us all out of the blue. Suddenly, almost overnight, everything was being cancelled – from school to dental appointments to the National Hockey League (a serious issue here in Canada!)  My blogging challenge hit overnight, too. My passion for writing about women and heart disease seemed to evaporate. Week  after week, I was simply unable to write anything except articles on COVID-19.  Heart patients are both at significant risk for catching this virus and far more likely to have really bad outcomes if we do.

“And then one day, George Floyd was murdered by a white police officer, and I stopped writing abut COVID-19. Just. Like. That. But lately, I’ve drifted back to writing about heart stuff. . .”

3. What is something you’ve accomplished with your blog that you’re most proud of?

“I write for other women like me living with heart disease, and I’m also so pleased to see that a growing number of physicians, nurses, paramedics, cardiac researchers and other healthcare professionals now read and share what I’m writing about. So far, this site has over 800 articles, attracting over 17.9 million views from 190 countries!

“But something I’m most proud of here on Heart Sisters is the comprehensive 8,000-word, patient-friendly, jargon-free glossary that I’ve created – a translation of complicated medical terms, abbreviations and acronyms that you’ll hear tossed casually at you around the cardiac ward – almost as if they think you’ve been to medical school.”

4. Share two of your best blogging tips.

  1. Grammar and spelling count. Otherwise, it looks like you don’t care.
  2. Factual accuracy counts even more.

5. What is one of your blogging goals this year?

“I have no blogging goals this year. I mostly concentrate on my immediate goals for this afternoon. . . e.g.  ‘Take A Nap!’

“Sometimes, my darling blog readers – perhaps worried about my lack of clear goals – tell me what I should write about. For example, a reader once asked me: ‘Why don’t you ever write about congenital heart defects?’

“That question really annoyed me. (This is MY blog, after all, and I’m not running the frickety-frackin’ Encyclopedia Britannica here!) But the very next day – entirely coincidentally! – I heard from a reader named Aletha who shared her dramatic personal story on this precise topic. It was so compelling that I immediately asked her permission to write about her in my post called When Babies With Congenital Heart Defects Grow Up.

“Thank you, Aletha – and thank you, Annoying Reader who suggested that topic in the first place.  Seriously, thanks. . . “

6. When things get hard, what keeps you blogging, even if not regularly?

“On the days when my ongoing cardiac symptoms (from coronary microvascular disease, a disorder affecting the smallest of the heart’s blood vessels) are really bothering me, there’s no writing going on. Minimal breathing maybe, but mostly just enough to maintain consciousness.  But on a good day, I can often sit down and write non-stop for two hours. My public relations friends still tease me that this is what happens when a PR person has a heart attack: we just keep writing and speaking and looking stuff up –  because that’s all we know! I believe I’m hitting the right note whenever my readers tell me, “I thought I was the only one who felt this way!”

7. What is a dream you have for your blog?

Every wild and crazy dream I may have ever had for Heart Sisters actually came true back in 2015. I was contacted by the executive editor at Johns Hopkins University Press in Baltimore (JHUPress, the oldest academic book publisher in North America!) Her exact words were: ‘We love your blog. We love your writing! Have you ever considered writing a book based on your Heart Sisters blog articles?’

“One of the absolutely best things about this blog-turned-book adventure was working with the very wonderful  JHUPress senior production editor, Deborah Bors – who skillfully navigated me through every step (and also reminded me how often I used the word “very”!)  In return, I helped to educate Debby on Canadian traditions like Tim Horton maple dips.

“The book that Debby helped me write became A Woman’s Guide to Living With Heart Disease. (I vehemently disagreed with JHUPress marketing staff over that title, by the way – and still wish I hadn’t caved in). It was published in 2017 – as Amazon’s #1 New Release in the Medicine/Public Health category!  The amazing rock star cardiologist Dr. Martha Gulati, Division Chief of Cardiology at the University of Arizona School of Medicine, generously wrote the most beautiful foreword I’ve ever seen.”

8. Share a link to a favorite post you’ve written that you want more people to read.

(Before I respond, I want to mention that Nancy’s pick as her own favourite breast cancer advocacy post as part of this 2020 Summer Blogging Challenge is a remarkable article called When a Cancer Billboard Is Offensive. As a result of outraged reactions from her readers and on social media, Mayo Clinic took down the offensive public billboard she wrote about. Imagine the power of one woman’s blog post to make that happen!)

“A favourite post of mine:  Whether you’re a woman living with breast cancer or  heart disease, or anybody trying to make sense of a diagnosis that makes no sense,  my post called Welcome to Your New Country seems to sum up much of the distressing post-diagnosis psychological angst that so many of us suffer in the early days, weeks and months – the kind that, unfortunately, healthcare professionals seem remarkably uninterested in mentioning. Feeling like you’ve somehow been forcibly deported to a strange country turns out to be remarkably common among the freshly-diagnosed.

“Second favourite post:  I still laugh out loud reading this post about the time a national TV news crew showed up in my kitchen to interview me about hospital food!”

Thank you to my lovely blogging buddy Nancy Stordahl for inviting me to participate in her annual Summer Blogging Challenge.  Please go check out her own Challenge list!

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NOTE FROM CAROLYN:  If you’re looking for A Woman’s Guide to Living with Heart Disease, you can save 20% off the book’s cover price if you order it directly from Johns Hopkins University Press (use their code HTWN). Or ask for it at your local library, your favourite independent bookshop, or order it online (paperback, hardcover or e-book) at Amazon.

This is a Blog Hop! Powered by Linky Tools
Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list…

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Q: What do YOU look for in the blogs that you enjoy reading?

See also:

– How this Heart Sisters blog was turned into a book

Plus these blog articles inspired by Nancy Stordahl

Unlikely companions: grief and gratitude

Recuperation and a red leather chair

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24 thoughts on “Eight questions from Nancy about my blog

  1. I’m so happy to find your blog. I don’t have breast cancer or heart disease (multiple myeloma instead 😏), but I love what you are doing here! Congratulations on all your success!

    I’m a huge fan of correct spelling and grammar too, even though I was a high school math teacher. Nice to connect with you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Ramae – thanks for your kind words. I wanted to tell you that my lovely daughter-in-law Paula is also a former high school math teacher AND a masterful proofreader and our family’s resident Grammar Queen. She helped me so much while I was writing my book (we’d have long chats about whether this sentence needed a “that” or a “which”! Can you relate? 😉

      I really enjoyed browsing your blog, Incurable Blessings, and especially your essay called Until We Meet Again: Letter To a Friend Dying of Cancer I also loved the unique illustrations you created for each post – so beautiful….

      Nice to connect with you, too. Take care and stay safe… ♥

      Like

      1. I can definitely relate, Carolyn! I love all things grammar and would easily engage in a conversation about whether to use ‘that’ or ‘which.’ Math and grammar are more related than people think!

        Thank you for reading my post about Lynn. Oh, that was so heartbreaking. I miss her so much and think of her often. She inspires me to take chances, to laugh, and to fully embrace life.

        I create the illustrations with an app called Insta Toon. It creates a variety of cartoon images from photos. I just love it, so thank you for saying something!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Hi again Ramae – It is heartbreaking to lose a close friend…. And at just 51, so young, too young. Your letter to her was such a loving tribute – thank you for sharing that.
          Thanks also for letting me know about Insta Toon – I’ll check that out!

          Take care, stay safe… ♥

          Like

  2. Hello, Carolyn.

    I am a 2x brain cancer survivor/thriver. I was diagnosed in April 2014 at 34 years old, in the prime of my life. That same year, a fellow classmate and friend from law school – only 36 years old – was misdiagnosed with GI problems. Only after several blood tests and other measures, she learned she had actually suffered a heart attack! More specifically, she was diagnosed with spontaneous coronary artery dissection or SCAD (much easier to say, yet not easy to hear as a 36 year old female).

    Similar to you and Nancy, even though my friend and I have been diagnosed with different diseases, we deal with so many similar challenges. Yet, we lift each other up and always support one another.

    I will definitely direct her to your site, as well as your book.

    I look forward to following you and your journey. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, my! R.K. – age 34 and a 2x brain cancer patient!? That’s way too young, and way too serious. I really hope you are doing better and keeping as healthy as possible. How serendipitous that your friend happened to be diagnosed that same year – instant patient support group!

      I’m very familiar with SCAD as I’ve been interviewing SCAD patients and writing about this diagnosis for a long time. Cardiologist and SCAD researcher Dr. Sharonne Hayes, founder of the Mayo Women’s Heart Clinic, once described SCAD like this: “We used to think SCAD was rare. But now we know that it’s just rarely appropriately diagnosed!”

      Still, it’s a baffling diagnosis because it tends to affect younger women with few if any cardiac risk factors (right off the bat, that makes them more vulnerable to being misdiagnosed as your friend was!)

      I don’t know if you or your friend have ever heard the story of how two SCAD patients managed to convince the prestigious Mayo Clinic to undertake the first large scale study on SCAD – here’s an excerpt from the Wall Street Journal article about these two persistent SCAD survivors.

      Take care, and stay safe.. ♥

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well I always say, “we’re ALL too young to suffer from this disease.”

        However, it did strike when I thought, “okay, I’ve got my s—t together now!” (pardon the expression) I was the “girl who had it all”! Oh, and a brain tumor too!

        Sadly, I had to watch as a dear friend I met through our advocacy on behalf of those affected by brain cancer succumb to the disease. She was only 35 and one of the most incredible people I’ve ever met. We were “brain cancer partners in crime”!

        Talk about serendipity – we actually went to the same, small all-girls high school. We didn’t know one another though because I was an upperclasswoman (not man – haha!) and we really never mixed with the girls in lower years!!

        She is one of my many guardian angels, and God do they need a break! Plus me, I kinda need a break! 🤦‍♀️

        Yes. We could have a long discussion on how women tend to be diagnosed. Example: My friend was told she was just too emotional about a break-up. No. No. She had a brain aneurysm!

        My friend from law school was Jill Kelly McComsey.

        You may even know each other because she also went through a carotid artery dissection not long after her heart attack.

        Now I’m taking this info from her firm’s site because I didn’t even know all of this:

        She was nominated to be honored and named the 2019 “Woman of Heart” in conjunction with the American Heart Association’s “Go Red for Women” movement.

        She was to be honored at the AHA on May 10.
        She’s a Champion ambassador for WomenHeart & trained at the Mayo Clinic. Plus she’s a board member of SCAD Research for the Mayo Clinic.

        She’s pretty much a rock star! 🙌.

        I like her quote, “We all only get just one life to live.”

        Oh, those two pioneering women in that article are pure #bossbabes. (I obviously embrace the “babe” term. Ha!). I would imagine Jill knows all about them!

        So great to connect with you. This is why I blog. To make connections and lift one another up!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Hi again – I too was trained at the WomenHeart Science & Leadership training at Mayo in 2008, not the same year as your friend (I’m afraid it’s like your all-girls high school – we got to know the women we trained with, but rarely got to meet the women before or after our ‘grad’ years! I did find this interesting article about Jill here. You’re so right – she IS a rock star!!! And oddly enough there’s another Mayo grad – from 2014 named McComiskey – very similar name!

          Great to connect with you, too! ♥

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  3. Hi Carolyn,

    Well, I don’t need to tell you what a big fan I am of your blog. It’s one of my favorites and it’s not even about breast cancer. (Then again, it is.)

    I just read, “Welcome to Your New Country“, and gosh, you nailed it. If my memory serves me right, you wrote about that in your terrific book too.

    I’m so glad you are participating in this summer’s challenge. Thank you. This blog hop thing makes it more fun. I hope people are doing some hopping!

    Thank you so much for the shout outs above too. That cancer billboard post had such an impact because readers on social media shared widely. Like usual, it takes a lot of voices to bring change, so I can’t really take the credit. Nonetheless it sure was gratifying to see that billboard come down.

    I chuckled when I read you don’t have a blogging goal this year, as I also did when I read your tips about grammar, spelling and accuracy. I can tell those are important. And I’m so glad your big dream for your blog has already come true!

    Thanks again for participating. Stay safe and well, friend. Keep writing. xo

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Nancy! Thanks very much for the invitation to participate in your annual Summer Blogging Challenge! I had fun writing this (sometimes writing blog articles, as you well know, is such a solitary activity – and few if any people ask the questions you did about why we do this!) A lovely distraction from what I usually write and think about, and also all the bleak news lately about politics and COVID-19 etc etc.

      You remember correctly: I did include that new country article in my book. I had no clue how common this comparison was before I started looking up other examples of patients with catastrophic diagnoses who felt that this was just like moving to a foreign country. It turned out that, no matter the diagnosis, many patients described almost-identical responses like this.

      You stay safe and well, too, my lovely friend… Thanks for your kind words. ♥

      Like

  4. Carolyn– Your blog is far and wide my favorite. There was another one a few years ago about living with fibromyalgia that I liked a lot too, but the author has moved on to book publishing. (In fact, she and her husband are currently publishing my memoir.)

    The common thread of both blogs has been your ability to share the pain of chronic illness in such a way that it may be about your specific diagnosis, but you address universal truths of chronic illness.

    I found your blog several years before I even had a heart attack. I’ve lived with a kidney transplant for over 25 years, but my young adulthood was shadowed with chronic illness. About seven years ago, body was beginning to break down again with multiple diagnoses, and I was looking for support — people who could make me feel less alone in my suffering.

    I definitely felt like I was being transported to a new country (my favorite article too) and as I was saying goodbye to my old life, I didn’t want to cause any more worry or pain for those I loved, liked, and worked with.

    The two blogs I love most (yours and the fibro one) keep/kept me grounded in finding a sense of community in this place I live in now–chronic illness.

    I also LOVE that you post on a regular and predictable basis! I always know that I’ll get a weekly dose of inspiration every Sunday morning!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Charlotte – so nice of you to mention my “regular and predictable” Sunday morning schedule. I too am a creature of habit, and I often associate certain days of the week or time of day with things I look forward to. So glad you do, too. 🙂

      I also wanted to thank you for bringing up a very important point when you wrote: “I didn’t want to cause any more worry or pain for those I loved, liked, and worked with….” Seeing genuine distress on the faces of my own children when they both flew home right after my heart attack, for example, was a real shock to me as I happily yammered away about what had just happened to me – and made me STOP yammering in mid-sentence.

      The reality for most of our family and close friends and colleagues is that they really want and need us to feel “better” so that they can stop worrying – which is why I now recommend that people living with chronic illness would do well to consider what YOU did – choose carefully those people who would make appropriate resources and confidantes for us when we are needing that support you mention. Sometimes those closest to us are NOT those people…. I wrote more on choosing your listeners carefully here.

      Please keep me posted when your memoir comes out!

      Take care, stay safe….♥

      Like

  5. I have had a double mastectomy for bilateral breast cancer (5 years), and I also have several problems with my heart, including congestive heart failure, 2nd degree A/V block, sick-sinus syndrome and Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, and have a pacemaker.

    So I always read Nancy’s blog, always read yours, love you both!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, Diane! You have officially reached your maximum lifetime quota for yucky medical conditions; you can stop any time now!!

      I’m sorry you have had SO MUCH on your plate. Between my blog on heart stuff and Nancy’s blog on breast cancer stuff, you’ve got lots of reading material that I hope will help to support you…

      Take care, please stay safe….♥

      Like

  6. I vividly remember when I read your book and was blown away by the similarities between your experiences and mine as a breast cancer patient.

    It highlights how often we women are not given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to knowing our own bodies.

    Thank you for your voice and your leadership in this space. ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Abigail and thanks so much for your perspective, and especially for your kind words about my book. You’re a good example of a woman living with breast cancer who also reads stuff about women with heart disease – because there is so much overlap in common, no matter what the diagnosis!

      If you read Maya Dusenbery’s excellent book “DOING HARM“, you’ll be gobsmacked by how the history of women’s healthcare is the history of women “not given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to knowing our own bodies…” It’s horrifying!

      I was glad to read your own contribution to Nancy’s 2020 Summer Blogging Challenge because I learned so much about you (DEAR READERS: please don’t miss Abigail’s answers to Nancy’s questions here!)

      Take care, stay safe….♥

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Your blog is the only one I read… so I have no comparison …

    However, your fact-based information combined with a valid personal experience is what has kept me coming back.

    I also appreciate that you correct my typos when I post a comment – LOL.

    My brother/webmaster keeps telling me I need to start writing my own blog. I’m too tired right now to start a new project but if I did, as a Spiritual Counselor I might title it “How the Universe Works by a Registered Nurse and Ex-Lutheran” LOL

    Blessings Carolyn, thanks for all of your work!
    Jill C

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Jill – I love the title of your not-yet-existing blog (and doesn’t everybody need to know how the universe works?)

      I had to laugh at your comment about me fixing typos. This is a CURSE! I share this trait with my lovely daughter-in-law Paula (who was my unpaid and unofficial proofreader for two years while writing my book because she is a talented and obsessive Grammar Queen). We can’t help ourselves – we MUST tidy up typos! – plus I think it makes for an easier experience for other readers if they’re not distracted by spelling or grammatical mistakes. (You may have also noticed that I tend to insert elements like bold or italics when a response cries out for such emphasis!)

      But I once mentioned to a medical conference audience that I do this, and was immediately corrected by a fellow panelist onstage who said that by “tidying up” my reader’s typos, I was hiding the great distress some heart patients might be experiencing, distress which is clearly causing them to make all those typos. This raised the possibility that this would mean I should only correct spelling mistakes that are present in cheerful comments, so I just go with the flow now!

      Take care, stay safe… ♥

      Like

      1. My typos are usually because I popped off a response without proof reading. Which in my world is a sign of being full of myself and not attending to details LOL.

        I have heard that God is in the details…. but I think I also heard that the devil is in the details? 🙄 so who knows! I have always felt your corrections and emphasis where needed, have been a loving addition to my comments.
        Thank You

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Oh, me too! I chalk up most of my typos to fatigue, generally. I know that if I don’t read and re-read every word very carefully before I hit “SUBMIT”, there will definitely be at least one big fat noticeable typo!

          PS That’s such a nice way to describe my “emphasis” to your comments – a loving addition!

          Like

      2. I consider my manic need to always use correct grammar, punctuation and spelling “A VICE”. It makes me feel like I am from another (or 2 or 3) generation(s) past! 37 years of teaching high school will do that to you! I still think it is a sign of good character, like making your bed each morning.😇😅

        Like

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