by Carolyn Thomas ♥ @HeartSisters
February is our shortest month of the year and also the month officially acknowledged almost everywhere as Heart Health Awareness Month. Then we all turn the calendar page and glide over to March, the official month of Liver Health Awareness, Disability Awareness, Ovarian Cancer Awareness, Red Cross Awareness worldwide – and many other causes. My niggling question remains: do these assorted official days/weeks/months of awareness-raising actually help to raise awareness out there?
Regular Heart Sisters readers will already know that I’ve begun to ask this question more often ever since the American Heart Association (AHA) national survey that revealed women’s awareness of heart disease (a diagnosis, by the way, that kills more women each year than ALL forms of cancer combined) has actually declined over the past decade.
Over half of the women surveyed, for example, were unaware that chest pain is a symptom of heart attack. Think about that for a moment. That’s a significantly worse result than 10 years ago. We’re going backwards when it comes to women’s awareness of heart disease. The AHA itself described the results of their own awareness survey as “a decade of lost ground.”
Despite many years of national Heart Month festivities, Red Dress fashion shows, designated Go Red for Women days, downtown buildings or bridges lit up with red lights, #HeartMonth hashtags all over social media, countless interviews with cardiologists on daytime talk shows, patient narratives all over the place, and a big bump in organizational fundraising all month long, women are NOT apparently getting the message that heart disease is our biggest health threat. That’s an astonishing result. See also: When a Red Dress Just Isn’t Enough to Raise Awareness
If the goal of naming a specific day, week or month is to actually raise awareness of a cause or an issue among the general public, we now know that whatever we’ve been doing is simply not working.
The national survey that the American Heart Association undertook is a standard best practice strategy among my colleagues in the public relations field. During decades of my former PR career in corporate, government and non-profit sectors, I learned that it’s not enough to host an event or launch a campaign. Behind the scenes, we were always busiest when evaluating the after-effects of every event or campaign launch. In other words, what were the ultimate results of that campaign? Did we bring more visitors to our website? Did we sell more widgets? Did these results reflect evidence of behaviour or attitudinal changes?
The AHA survey did help to answer one important question: “Are women more or less aware of heart disease now after all of our awareness-raising efforts?” – but it was a bombshell of an answer that I simply didn’t see coming. For the cringe-worthy news summary, read the AHA’s Top Things to Know: Ten-Year Differences in Women’s Awareness Related to Coronary Heart Disease
As all of my former Canadian Public Relations Society colleagues know, there are a number of important steps in professional public awareness campaigns, based on what we used to call the R.A.C.E. model of Research, Analysis, Communication and Evaluation.
In my own case, I know from tracking both reader comments and article traffic stats that my target readership here includes both women who are already diagnosed with heart disease (and/or their family members) plus “newbies” who are afraid that their symptoms might be heart-related. These are two very different groups, with very different personal needs. “How Does It Really Feel to Have a Heart Attack?“, for example, is the most-read blog article on my site – with over 2.6 million views since I wrote it back in 2009. These are largely what I call my “3 o’clock in the morning newbies” who wake up with frightening new symptoms and immediately go online, where Dr. Google can direct them to this post.
The general public, by the way, is NOT among my target readership, as clarified in the paragraphs below.
Among heart disease awareness-raising campaigns, the analysis piece of the R.A.C.E. model may be the weakest link, because most seem to have already decided up front that information is what women need most.
Yet as the latest AHA National Survey clearly found, women are actually less informed than they’d been 10 years earlier despite a relative avalanche of information, facts, statistics and data shared over that decade by both heart-related organizations and patient advocates like me. In my own case, I too have been guilty of intuitively believing that the way to inform women is to pile on more information. More info, more facts, more stats, more data. But as Florida researchers wrote in Stop Raising Awareness Already, published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review:
“Because abundant research shows that people who are simply given more information are unlikely to change their beliefs or behavior, it’s time for activists and organizations seeking to drive change in the public interest to move beyond just raising awareness.”
For heart health awareness campaigns like Heart Month, the AHA national survey was the mother of all post-campaign evaluations. The survey was aimed at the general public, a group of women who are not necessarily heart patients. Not yet. But the general public is actually the least likely to pay much attention to what I or the American Heart Association or anybody else trying to raise women’s awareness of heart disease are saying.
If we could get the needle to move within this general public demographic, that could be promising. But at this point, that needle is not only unmovable – it’s broken.
I wrote here (as a woman with complete disregard for this topic during most of my adult life – until my own heart attack) that women are no more likely to be interested in learning about heart disease than they are in learning about lupus or epilepsy or any other condition they believe to be irrelevant to them or to their families.
In other words, heart disease did not matter to me until it happened to me.
Some days, frankly, I wonder why I’m still at it. The shocking conclusions of that AHA national survey have been demoralizing. When I first started this blog in 2009, freshly-graduated from my Mayo Clinic patient advocacy training, I was so excited about sharing what I’d learned there with women here.
I too was a believer back then.
I too wore a red dress back then.
Yet red dresses do not raise public awareness. They just make us feel like we’re doing something.
Meanwhile, I’m weary from years of lobbying in vain for changes that I believe are seriously important to women (and men!) – yet by now seem truly futile (changes like implementing mandatory reporting of our cardiac misdiagnoses, or changing the deliberately hurtful name of heart FAILURE, among many other issues).
I’ve lately been toying with the notion of starting up a new website, in fact – one that is very different from writing about heart disease, and indeed instead something purely joyful – like balcony roses for the novice gardener – a concept that I’ve only recently fallen in love with. UPDATE: I did it! I felt so utterly defeated by that AHA survey results that I took a whole summer off from writing about women’s heart health. I just couldn’t do it. Instead, I wrote only about growing roses in pots. And yes, there’s a special month designated to celebrate roses. Of course, there is! Since 1959, June has been acknowledged as National Rose Month. But without all the info, the facts, the stats, the data.
Just slowing down to smell the roses. . .
NOTE FROM CAROLYN: My book “A Woman’s Guide to Living with Heart Disease“ reads like the“Best Of” Heart Sisters blog archives. You can ask for it at bookstores (please support your local independent bookseller!) or order it online (paperback, hardcover or e-book) at Amazon – or order it directly from my publisher Johns Hopkins University Press (if you use their code HTWN , you can save 30% off the list price).
Q: I’m out of fresh ideas to make Heart Month messaging stick. Suggestions?
–Women’s heart disease: an awareness campaign fail?
–Two kinds of heart patients, and the third kind that aren’t patients – yet!
–When a red dress just isn’t enough to raise awarenesskinds of heart patients
–Is it finally time to change the name ‘heart FAILURE’?
–Women’s heart attacks (still!) more likely misdiagnosed than men’s
–Mandatory reporting of diagnostic error: “Not the right time?”
33 thoughts on “Heart Month awareness: doing the same thing, yet expecting different results”
I’ve been thinking of replying to your post for several weeks now. Unfortunately, I had a fall on ice and hit my head, resulting in a subdural hematoma, made worse by being on blood thinners, so have been limiting my screen time. I was trying to think of exactly what I wanted to say. Then I remembered the Parable of the Starfish and came across this version:
“There are times we have to accept that the way we can make the best – and probably most profound – change to help humanity, is just with one person (or starfish) at a time.
Sometimes I can feel upset that I seem unable to ‘do more’ to make a ‘bigger difference’, and that is when I re-read the parable about the starfish on the beach… and feel at peace.
Once upon a time, there was an old man who used to go to the ocean for exercise.
One day, the old man was walking along a beach that was littered with thousands of starfish that had been washed ashore by the high tide. As he walked he came upon a young boy who was eagerly throwing the starfish back into the ocean, one by one.
Puzzled, the man looked at the boy and asked what he was doing.
The young boy paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can’t return to the sea by themselves,” the boy replied. “When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back into the water.”
The old man replied, “But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.”
The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled and said, “It made a difference to that one!”
…adapted from The Star Thrower, by Loren Eiseley (1907 – 1977)
I realize that I’ve felt like I was one of the starfish that you “made a difference to” and I will be forever grateful.
I’m also grateful that you shared my pacemaker story on your blog. I hope that it will help someone else. I’ve also forwarded emails with the link to your blog to the coordinator of my area’s Heart & Stroke Campaign and to several friends who I thought would benefit from reading your posts, including my husband’s cousin in England who was awaiting heart valve surgery.
Enjoy your time tending your roses, but know that your efforts will continue to help women with heart issues.
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Dear Linda – first of all, I’m very sorry about your fall and subsequent hematoma (those darned blood thinners!) I hope you’re feeling better each day.
Thank you for your comment. I’m feeling so moved by your kind words, and by that Starfish parable (which I remember hearing or reading years ago). It’s good to be reminded of that wisdom.
I do know that what I write and speak about often does impact other women individually (because they are generous enough to tell me about it, sometimes years after the fact, e.g. “I remembered what you wrote, so I called 911…)
I recall the first time you wrote to me here after suffering from a mis-positioned pacemaker for 19 months. Learning about your experience really upset me because I knew you weren’t the only heart patient out there in the same boat (especially your specific line about not being able to put your right earring in because of the pain caused by your left arm rubbing against the bump that was your pacemaker. That’s a good example of a really specific and effective description of a troubling symptom.
I’m not a doctor (as I keep saying!) but even I knew instinctively that arm pain while putting your earring in is NOT NORMAL for pacemaker patients. I also knew that how you were feeling every day because of how that surgeon had implanted your pacemaker was not right. And I knew that how your doctors tried to dismiss your discomfort – and then tried to talk you out of that second surgery to correct the initial problem was not right either. When I later learned that your second surgery included this time both a smaller pacemaker AND a new surgical location that was significantly moved over from the first, that sounded like what should have been done in the first place.
And I also know now that your own story DID indeed help other women – a number of whom have already told me since then that reading about your brave decision to stop putting up with something that was just not right (instead of being a nice, quiet, “good” patient who puts up with problems rather than make a fuss) was what compelled THEM to go back to their own doctors, too.
I’m glad you were one of my “starfish, Linda.
Take care, and stay safe. . . ♥
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It is so good to hear that my pacemaker story has helped other women who were compelled to go back to their doctors. Perhaps, when you are up to sharing my heart bypass story, that will also give other women the courage to speak up when they know something is wrong but their symptoms are dismissed by a cardiologist.
I’ve shared that story with our Heart & Stroke Campaign coordinator as well.
Take care and stay safe.
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That’s the target audience, isn’t it? – Women who know something is wrong – yet whose symptoms are being dismissed or minimized by their doctors. It does take courage to speak up (and sometimes to keep on speaking up more than once!) and that’s why stories like yours are so useful. You represent an example of patients who DO speak up, and doctors who DO listen and believe them.
Thanks again, Linda! ♥ ♥ ♥
Carolyn – I have been chewing on your post about doing the same thing but expecting different results. When I read it, I acknowledge its truth and I feel such despair.I would love a follow up describing what your readers have for suggestions.
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Hi, Dr. Anne. I too felt despair, the more I thought about that “doing the same thing” statement, the more despair I felt. It’s so intuitive to believe that all we need to do is offer more information to help raise awareness of those who aren’t informed. But if more and more information were all that was needed, we wouldn’t have anti-vax or anti-science protesters refusing to get themselves or their kids vaccinated.
Some of my readers have come up with doable suggestions (like Tomi’s, below) who offered this one: “a series from female physicians/nurses who have had their own heart problems”. One suggested getting a female celebrity to come onboard to share her own cardiac story. We’ve seen this done – heart patients are the only people I know who get genuinely excited when a famous person is diagnosed with heart disease – because we hope we’ll be able to get awareness mileage out of sharing her story with the world – that THIS TIME, women will listen to her…
I still think this is a worthwhile cause; I just don’t think I’m the person to gather these suggestions at this time.
Take care, stay safe out there. . . ♥
Dearest Carolyn: You have been a Godsend to me after being diagnosed with Coronary Microvascular disease.
There is not a lot of information out there and really when I didn’t know where to turn, your blog articles were so comforting to know that this wasn’t all in my head. Other people experienced the same concerns and frustrations that I was going through
Your blogs gave me so much peace of mind that I don’t think Drs can give that same comfort to the person going through a heart incident.
I believe what you are doing is helping so many people, women especially, feel validated and loved.
Enjoy your rose garden, take a break if you need to from the blog. Even though your readers will miss them. But come back soon.
love your messages so much
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Thank you Juanita for such a kind message. I’m so glad that you found comfort and peace of mind by reading my blog articles. All 900+ of them are – and will be – still listed here, in our Archives, ready for other women and their families to read when they need to. Another way to search for any specific topics (symptoms, mental health issues, misdiagnosis, etc.) is through clicking the themes in the “TOPICS” section on the right hand sidebar of each page.
I know that the archives may not seem as intriguing as those 900+ articles were when freshly written, but there is truly a LOT of content there, with much of it devoted to making women feel “validated and loved” . Readers like you have helped and inspired me to continue writing here for the past 13 years, week in and week out.
This morning, I drove out to the country to pick up my first flat of new ready-to-plant bare root roses at the garden shop; I know I’ll really enjoy this new project as I spend the next few months “hatching” them into the full bloom of summer.
Take care, stay safe. . . ♥
I’ve thought about your post for several days now. Of course you are discouraged after all these years, and I also think we are all in a dejected place as survivors of the pandemic (and in my case of a heart attack in the middle of it). The last two years are not those where dramatic changes in awareness could happen given the environment.
But looking forward, as a a retired public relations person, I have a few thoughts to energize this effort.
Here’s one: What if Carrie, instead of Big, had the heart attack on Sex in the City? I’ll answer that – it would have set the national conversation in the direction it needs to go. This campaign of facts, and charts and numbers needs some cultural star power and a lot more energy. I’m not talking about rolling out a celeb at a fundraiser–it needs to be more robust.
I like facts and charts, but not everyone does, so more compelling story telling would help a great deal (you are a champion of compelling story, BTW). Many people may find this idea slick, but in today’s world who speaks and how they speak can initiate dramatic change. Just think what the ice bucket challenge did for ALS. How about a series from female physicians/nurses who have had their own heart problems? They too often miss the signs, and as thought leaders can create warmth and hope.
The media coverage I saw for Heart Awareness month was so limited and so flat, and I thought no wonder people aren’t paying attention. I find the US-based American Heart Foundation very slick, very corporate and very unhelpful, while the British Heart Foundation is vibrant, hopeful and compelling. I don’t know who runs the Heart Awareness month, if there is a body, but they aren’t doing a very good job with the public. Maybe they focus on lobbying, I don’t know.
All the media advice, website advise, etc., recommends patients go “speak to your doctor” but I always scoff at that, given the state of the new efficiency model of medicine where doctors don’t really speak to patients for more than their allotted 7 minutes. I am in constant search of a physician “who will talk to me,” and they are usually older generation. I had a scan that showed an aortic aneurysm. My doc never informed me even though I was put on a list with a surgeon as a possible future bypass candidate. I found out reading my online chart. I asked doc if it could be life threatening before I understood what it was, and she just said yes, never explaining a thing. I find this appalling, and yet another reason why your blog is so essential.
Finally, we all need to get past the finger pointing and patient blaming about lifestyle. I blamed myself for being over weight and when I lost 14% of my body weight, I asked the doctor why it did NOTHING to reduce my lab numbers. He said, losing weight won’t impact your numbers, it just makes it easier for the heart to work. WHAT?
While it’s excellent to add exercise and clean up the diet, even statins only reduce future heart attacks by 30%. In the next few years we will all be hearing more about the inherited issues, such as LP(a) issue, a condition in which the liver pumps out cholesterol. Some estimates are that 30% of the population has it. And it doesn’t respond to lifestyle changes. Most docs don’t even test for it because they say there is nothing to do about it. Actually the reality is, there are drugs, just not approved for LP(a) and the issue is not studied to know the effectiveness.
It’s very likely that getting past the point of only reaching people who have had a heart attack may not be completely doable. It’s an invisible issue, as you have pointed out in numerous posts, and the miracle of stents has kept many more people alive. Also it’s terrifying, both before and after. People look away when terrified. But there are peripheral approaches. I just watched a video with a cardiologist who treats endurance athletes and Olympians. Not only is it easy for athletes to be misdiagnosed, but they need care that keeps them going if at all possible (BHF), and another on new artificial intelligence that measures inflammation to predict heart attacks is now in trial.
So don’t measure your work on awareness studies, and know you are doing something no one else has even begun to tackle. If you need a break from the relentlessness of weekly posts, maybe a guest blogger now and again could be helpful.
Thank you for all your hard work and caring!
Hi Tomi – first, you’re two steps ahead of me; I’ve already got one or more ducks lined up in a row for possible guest blogs. We’ll see how readers respond. During the time I was writing my book, for example, there were not enough hours in my day to both write a book and also write new blog articles to run every Sunday – something had to go. So for many months, each Sunday morning I re-posted older articles from the archives. But I could tell by the dramatic lack of reader comments and a sharp drop in readership stats that my regular readers did not like that recycled option!
Thanks for the reminder not to judge my work based on awareness studies (although those surveys tend to be a pretty accurate marker to judge results of our efforts). Last evening, I had a discouraging phone chat with an old friend in Seattle (smart, educated, retired university professor) who told me he had never heard of Heart Month! He’s not the specific target market for Heart Month festivities geared to women, but he’s a pretty ‘aware’ guy – so that revelation was disappointing.
Thank you for your thoughtful response on so many levels. It shows what wisdom can occur after thinking for a few days. I too love what the British Heart Foundation creates to raise awareness: the classic Vinnie Jones no-hands CPR is my favourite video! Tons of simple, clear and useful instructions – and funny!
Two years of pandemic life has indeed been a challenge for all of us. I find I have a remarkably short fuse these days, and very little tolerance for almost anything big or little, that annoys me – and everything seems to annoy me.
Except my darling grandbabies, of course. And roses. . .
Take care, stay safe! ♥
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Blimey ladies – I’m British and never set eyes on the Vinnie Jones advert! Away to repost it.
But more to the point, made me rethink about advertising and getting messages out there. Who watches adverts nowadays? I don’t. Practically everything I watch I have recorded and then whizz through the adverts. Or if I’m watching live then I pause at the adverts and use the time to go for a pee or make a cuppa. It’s so much more difficult to get messages heard nowadays.
We just all have to keep plugging away. Telling our girlfriends. Telling their menfolk. Educating our kids. One step at a time. And being there for one another. x
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Hi again Carolyn – you hadn’t seen the Vinnie Jones CPR video?!? I LOVE that one so much. The first time I saw it, I think I replayed it 10 times! (I certainly can’t say that about any other organization’s cardiac awareness campaign!) It is SO funny (e.g. I cracked up at the way he stares deadpan into the camera and says “We need a volunteer that ain’t breathing…”) before his two associates slide the ‘volunteer’s body across the cement floor toward him, and the “Stayin Alive” music starts up as he performs hands-only CPR on his ‘volunteer’.
I’d never heard of Vinnie Jones before seeing this ad for the BHF (but have since learned that he was a professional football player-turned-“tough guy” film actor and author (his latest book “Lost Without You” was a Sunday Times bestseller, a “heart-breaking memoir, but full of humour and hope” – about his late wife Tanya.
Another successful celebrity campaign: about 10 years ago, the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation ran a campaign to raise awareness of atrial fibrillation, a heart rhythm condition. It featured the well-known drummer Jeremy Taggart, formerly of the Toronto rock group, Our Lady Peace.
Jeremy’s drumming in that 90-second video perfectly matched the erratic heart rhythm of a heart patient with atrial fibrillation as he followed him around town while the patient eats a sandwich, rides an elevator, goes bowling. Jeremy even falls off his drum kit while the patient plays golf, demonstrating the AF symptom of fatigue. It was brilliant in dramatically informing the public what cardiac arrhythmia can feel like. Sadly, that video is no longer available.
Maybe these entertainment-themed messages – because they are so entertaining! – can sneak education out to the public while they think they’re just enjoying the music. And the best ones will be more widely shared via social media between friends than during TV programs where viewers can fast forward through ads as you do!
In fact, I’m going to post that Vinnie Jones ad on Twitter right now!
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The sad truth is that until something is forced into our lives, right in our faces and we have to pay attention, our natural bent is to ignore things.
For many years I had fertility issues and went through the medical hoops with that to always be surprised at how little
1) the medical profession knew about women’s bodies
2) women knew about their bodies.
I then spent years involved with maternity services and trying to improve all that was offered to women at all stages of that process. But most do not want to think about those issues until it impacts them.
And now that I am a Heart Sister… the same. I am shocked at how little
1) the medical profession know about women’s heart attacks and after care
2) women know about heart attacks in women.
What I can say is that I think the personal makes the difference. The number of my girlfriends who wanted to know about ‘what it’s like to have a heart attack’, what symptoms they should look out for, what they should consider when ‘feeling a bit off’ suddenly became very real because now they knew someone in that situation – and it could be them.
Word of mouth is always the best way forward. It’s horribly slow but it works and I think a personal conversation stays in someone’s mind so much more clearly than reading a book or article or listening to a podcast. I read a book and take it in, but that’s because I am actively seeking information about my new land.
So please don’t give up – but like everything in life just remind yourself that it’s not you – it’s them.
Until people are in the place to hear something, it won’t go in. And nowadays we are bombarded by information. The whole check-your-breasts campaign was a long time ago. We weren’t being distracted by non stop messages on social media. So we paid attention.
Having only just found my Heart Sisters – go sniff the roses, but don’t abandon the keyboard completely!
And thank you from the bottom of my not too badly damaged heart for ‘Living with Heart Disease’. Half way through, but it feels like finding a friend in my new land. Thank you.
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Hello Carolyn (spelled correctly!)
Thanks so much for your very kind words, especially about my book. That was a 2-year project that really was a labour of love. I had a number of conversations with my Johns Hopkins editor at the time about why anybody would buy a book based on a blog that they could read for free 24/7. They’d never published a book like this before so were taking a chance on me. But we’d end up agreeing that there IS something about curling up under a comfy blanket with a real book. I’ve had a number of women tell me they read the whole book non-stop over one weekend.
I’m glad you mentioned fertility issues: I knew zero about this field of medicine until my lovely 42-year old daughter-in-law went through this last summer. She and my son had to make several trips to Vancouver for the assorted procedures, each one precisely timed of course. I was surprised to learn how painful some of these procedures were! We all learned A LOT during this intense short course! She was such a trouper – and the beautiful end result is our ‘COVID baby’, little Zachary David Dunn (my first grandson, second grandbaby) who will be one year old this month, cutest, funniest and smartest boy anywhere!
You’re so right: the personal DOES make a difference. Once a cardiac diagnosis hits close to home, we all seem to perk up with sudden fascination for this subject.
I’ll try to remember your wise advice: it’s not ME, it’s THEM!!
Thank you – take care and stay safe…. ♥
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How wonderful! Congratulations on the safe arrival of Zachary during Covid and the happiest of birthday celebrations for him this month!
Dear Carolyn. All I can say is PLEASE do not quit writing about heart matters. You DO and have made a difference for me and countless others who read your weekly columns. I am a heart disease/stents survivor (thus far) who gained more from your blog than any other resource provided. I look forward to your Sunday email arriving, always learning something from your articles from the heart. You are to be commended for keeping heart disease at the forefront for countless readers.
I totally understand writing deadlines, having been under that pressure for many years myself. But my writing never made a difference for anyone, let alone women with heart disease. You are our voice, our support and informant rolled into one! We need you! I hope you find much needed solace in your rose garden but also hope you find it in your heart to send out your ❤️ messages of hope once in awhile going forward.
Thank you for all you have done and all you do for women!
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Hello Jackie – what a lovely message! Thank you for making my day with such an enthusiastic and generous vote of confidence. If and when I do launch my ‘novice rose gardener‘ site, I’ll be leaving Heart Sisters up as usual (that’s 900+ articles on just about every possible aspect of becoming a heart patient) so women with heart disease will still have a resource here to check out – and who knows? I may take your advice and pop in here on occasion!
My sincere thanks once again! ♥
Take care, and stay safe. . .
I’m totally in this camp with Jackie. Beautifully said.
Your blog has been my lifeline, and I think I mean it both ways. I didn’t have the family/friend supports that you have written about, so this blog has been my best friend, personal advisor and coach through this new landscape. You’re the best!
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Oh my…. thank you dear Tomi… ♥
I think people, including myself, really don’t seek info until they need it. Thank heaven you and your info have been available to me.
Is there a way to simplify the message and standardize it more like the “these are stroke symptoms, now call 911” idea. I know it’s not as clear-cut but repetition of a standardized catchy idea could be the starting point.
I sincerely thank you for your blog and information.
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So true, Nancy – we don’t seek info until we really need it. Thanks for your kind words. And the good suggestion for simplified messaging!
Take care, stay safe. . . . ♥
You and I and many others who understand the possibilities of change that exist in our communities can look around and feel like we are screaming into the wind. . . We want good for others sooooo badly, it can never happen fast enough. Watching others suffer and succumb to preventable circumstances hurts our very hearts.
The problem is not just publicity but timing. When will society TRULY embrace Wellness Counseling as the cornerstone of health care rather than disease treatment or disease prevention? They say 90% of diseases are prevented by changes in lifestyle.
When will we have wellness and lifestyle check ups as a routine part of growing up? What Medicare calls their “wellness check up” is all about screening for disease, checking medication interaction, checking for vaccination against disease and the last sentence is “Oh yes, diet and exercise” . Don’t get me wrong, the genetic aspect of disease is not a small thing – I have genetic hyperlipidemia, Coronary Heart Disease and HCM. But what if I knew my risks at a very young age and understood the tremendous value of a healthy life style?
Our culture IS shifting but the process of shifting is SLOW and LONG. Being our best Self, one day at a time, is often all that we can contribute.
I have a strong identification with the unique, consciousness raising power of flowers and hope to make a contribution to our cultural shift in that area, as you have in the area of women’s heart disease.
I say go for the roses!!!!
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Hello Jill – you have captured exactly how I’ve been feeling: “screaming into the wind”.
As you know, so many factors influence the many reasons that – despite the message that 90% of diseases are preventable by lifestyle changes – lasting behavior change is so rare (genetics is only one aspect). An Australian study led by Dr. Domenika Kwasnica concluded: “Behaviour change interventions are effective in supporting individuals in achieving TEMPORARY behaviour change. Behaviour change maintenance, however, is RARELY ATTAINED.” Health inequalities often mean that, while some factors ARE within a patient’s control, many are NOT.
The entire field of research studying Social Determinants of Health has been working on solving this mystery for decades. Economic stability, education, neighborhoods, social and community context – all can contribute to the choices people will or will not make. I believe that just watching the frightening news these days could wipe out health gains simply by surging cortisol and adrenaline hormones in the body. I just can’t watch anymore…
I’m picturing the woman I met at the “Heart-To-Heart” 7-week education classes for recently-diagnosed heart patients I was facilitating a few years ago: the guest speaker that evening was enthusiastically recommending that the class members should embrace the vegan diet that he himself had been on for five years. I happened to be sitting near this woman; the longer the man spoke, the more I could watch her shoulders slump. She told me later during the break that since her heart attack, she had lost 20 pounds, she had quit smoking, she had started yoga and weight training classes. She’d been proud of the impressive progress she’d made. But NOW she also needed to become a vegan?!?!
She looked so deflated – I suspected she went straight to the 7-11 on the way home for a pint of Häagen-Dazs…
I will go for those roses, Jill!
Take care, stay safe. . . ♥
Absolutely agree with all of this. I think adult behavior changes are extremely difficult and I am one that yo yo dieted for 30 years and finally gave up on changing my weight even though I know it would certainly help ALL my various chronic conditions.
I guess my imagined cultural shift would be based on a society of love and compassion; not just for our bodies but for each other. A society where we didn’t have adrenal and cortisol surges every time we walk outside of the house or watch the news. I guess no one “promised us a rose garden” But I have a great imagination and that in an of itself improves my body chemistry a little bit I’m sure.
PS I don’t watch the news either and several months ago I deleted my twitter and Facebook apps just to see what it was like. LOL
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Carolyn – I have been frustrated over the years when searching for a local support group for women dealing with heart disease. Your book and this blog are the only truly informative information that I have read, which supported me through my recent heart attack and triple bypass.
It wasn’t coming from the doctors or anything else I read online. I have promoted your book on the Mayo Clinic website and am disappointed that they have monthly zoom events for multiple chronic conditions, except heart disease. I was told to stay with the group, Heart and Blood. Why??? This makes no sense to me. I may pursue questioning this more.
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Hello Sandy – thanks so much for your kind words. I hope you’re continuing to heal since your heart attack/bypass surgery.
Thanks also for mentioning my book on the Mayo site. That story reminds me of the time I volunteered for our Patient Network project to provide a patient’s perspective on a new health Q&A website from our local government health agency. Just for fun, I clicked on the alphabetical listings of all kinds of diseases listed – but could not find “heart disease” under the letter H. “Hemorrhoids” – YES! But heart disease? NO!
Take care, please stay safe. . . ♥
I still love your blog.
It was you I held onto – and yes sometimes at 3 a.m. My two heart attacks that were 7 months apart in 2017 were “handled” in such ways that I actually got a letter of apology from the hospital for their poor response to my heart attack on the heart floor.
Your blog on being in another country let me know someone else knew how I felt. My best therapist in my area was a large Tennessee walking horse named Belle.
What really struck me on the heart awareness Friday as I sat in my pulmonologist’s waiting room with my heart shirt and red dress pin was the thought that I saw no recognition of this “awareness” day. I realized I was not in a cardiologist’s waiting room, but was too afraid of what would come out of my mouth if I went there looking for red recognition or pins knowing it would probably be lacking.
A few years later I was sitting in the cardiologist waiting room in February shaking my head. How can we expect those of us who realize who we are to hear what we stand for if the medical community isn’t even on board? When COVID hit, my first comment was “now the world just had a big heart attack!”.
A person’s sense of safety was removed. I don’t know what it will ever take for people to stop thinking “that doesn’t apply to me”. I guess I just want you to know that when my heart attack and my realization arrived, I felt blessed to have found you Carolyn.
You are still relavent to me and I am sure there are many women who feel like I do.
I always wish people would stop leaving their dogs in hot cars but to no avail. I now know I can only do my part…for that one dog at a time….call the police or leave a kind note on a windshield. I don’t think a month named in awareness of my furry friends would reach those who need to change their behavior. If the song “in the arms of an angel” crying from my tv can’t change the issue, my notes on the windshield won’t either. But if it changes 1 person, then 1 dog will be happy.
What I’m trying to say is you are changing people’s awareness….and it is being passed on….just not with pins or the month of February I guess. Thank you for being there for me and go after the Roses too🌹
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Hi Pam – first of all – WOW! getting a letter of apology from the hospital?!?! How often does THAT happen?
Glad you mentioned Belle – I’ve heard from a number of heart patients that their animals were powerfully effective treatment/distractions – and often while no other treatments seem to help. And I start crying just thinking of Sarah McLachlan’s ‘arms of an angel’ song. . .
It’s not surprising to me at all that your pulmonologist’s office had zero signs of Heart Month recognition. Heart Month is largely about “preaching to the choir”, like a private club of very involved members all high-fiving each other on the “success” of their preaching. This is also true for every other cause-related day/week/month. If I saw a photo of a huge bridge all lit up purple, I’d have to go look up what “purple” means we’re supposed to be celebrating. There’s no ‘awareness’ being raised there. And I think your example of dogs left in hot cars is a perfect analogy…
Thank you for your kind words, Pam. Take care, stay safe. . . ♥
I’ve done some serious squawking this past month, urging women to think about their hearts. Most of the time I was met with blank looks … and then the conversation turned to cancer.
My impression is that there is a huge gender gap in the perception of cancer as a women’s disease and heart as a men’s disease. I attribute at least part of that to the seemingly relentless publicity of women’s cancer groups.
I haven’t a clue how to change the gendered thinking, but I DO know that your voice and your intelligence and your experience is desperately needed. Please PLEASE don’t quit!!!
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Hello Sandra – I was thinking while reading your words that when you mention those “blank looks” in response to urging women to think about their hearts DURING HEART MONTH (!) – that’s a pretty compelling example of how ineffective Heart Month messaging can be. Again (as I did too) we don’t listen to messaging UNLESS we or our families are directly affected.
Thanks so much for your kind words and your unfailing support over the years.
Take care, and stay safe out there. . . ♥
I will read your roses website….good idea Carolyn…many thanks for all you do and are…with each group of women I teach, I tell them about you and your work so please keep the content here available…
‘heart’ is earth spelled a bit differently…and your example supports flowering of life and love!
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Thank you Isabella for your kind words. I had never clued in that “earth” and “heart” are word scrambles of each other.
And yes, if and when I drift off to write about roses, I’d keep my Heart Sisters content available here. I won’t be gone – I’ll just be out puttering in the rose garden.
Take care, and stay safe. . . . ♥
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