A letter to my pre-heart attack self

DearCarolynSMALL

Duly inspired by CBC Wiretap’s How To Age Gracefully(a delightful farewell video letter to their radio fans, e.g. an 8-year old’s wise advice to a 7-year old), I’m sending this letter to my pre-2008 self.  Since my “widowmaker” heart attack that year, and subsequent ongoing cardiac issues, I’ve learned a thing or two about living with a chronic and progressive illness that I wish I’d known BHA (before heart attack).  I think I would have been a nicer and smarter and healthier person had I known these things long ago. So in no particular order, here’s my best advice to a long-ago me:
Continue reading “A letter to my pre-heart attack self”

Living with heart disease – and your whole family

by Carolyn Thomas    @HeartSisters

For more than 30 years, Dr. Wayne Sotile was the director of psychological services for Wake Forest University’s Cardiac Rehabilitation program. Which is to say that he’s spent a lot of time with heart patients and their families. In 2008, while recuperating from my own heart attack, I discovered his must-read book called Thriving With Heart Disease. That title, by the way, has always bugged my Alaskan friend Dr. Stephen Parker (a cardiac psychologist and himself a heart attack survivor) who once made this comment about the book’s title:

“Just as soon as I can gather myself together, I am planning on writing a book called ‘Thriving After I Lost All My Body Parts’…”

Despite that small quibble about the title, Dr. Sotile is a terrific writer who nails it when it comes to guiding those who are freshly-diagnosed with a chronic and progressive condition like heart disease. Continue reading “Living with heart disease – and your whole family”

Little social support: a big gap for younger heart patients

by Carolyn Thomas  ♥ @HeartSisters

I used to offer to sell to my non-Ukrainian friends the guest list from our big Ukrainian wedding. Imagine 450 names, all of whom were raised in a wonderful Slavic culture that knows what to do when hard times strike. No sooner do they hear of a friend or neighbour’s problems (like a family tragedy or a serious health crisis) – and they start pitching in to help. Such support often starts with baking, cooking and getting the casserole dishes lined up on the kitchen counter for imminent delivery to the freshly-stricken person’s fridge. Researchers know that having social support like this from others following a heart attack (or any serious health crisis) helps not only with physical recuperation, but also with emotional and psychological recovery, too. Yet virtually all published health research on the important quality-of-life issue of social support so far has been done on men.

White men.

White men, almost all of them seniors.

So lots of old white men studied, but very few women – and very few patients of either gender who were younger than 55 years of age.  But the VIRGO study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association finally attempts to address this gap.(1)  . . .
Continue reading “Little social support: a big gap for younger heart patients”

The day I made peace with an errant organ

by Carolyn Thomas    ♥  @HeartSisters

Here’s my theory: few health crises in life are as traumatic as surviving a cardiac event. I developed this theory while I was busy having my own heart attack in the spring of 2008.

For starters, cardiac symptoms often come out of the blue (in fact, almost two-thirds of women who die of coronary heart disease have no previous symptoms.(1)  Having a heart attack can feel so unimaginably terrifying that almost all of us try desperately to dismiss or deny cardiac symptoms. And according to a report published in Global Heart, the journal of the World Heart Federation, women are twice as likely to die within one year even if they do survive a heart attack compared to our male counterparts.(2)

So if – and each of these is still, sadly, a great big fat IF for too many women – we survive the actual cardiac event, and if we are near a hospital that’s able to provide an experienced team of cardiologists/cardiovascular surgeons/cardiac nurses, and if we are correctly diagnosed, and if we receive timely and appropriate treatment, and if the resulting damage to our oxygen-deprived heart muscle is not too severe, we get to finally go home, safe and sound.

And that’s where the real trauma starts.   Continue reading “The day I made peace with an errant organ”

A “crazy-making vicious cycle of stress and discontent”

circle of concern

by Carolyn Thomas @HeartSisters

The best business management lesson that Jen Thorson ever learned may well be a lesson worth learning for all of us – particularly those of us living with heart disease (or any other chronic and progressive diagnosis).

Early in her business career, Jen (now a 30-something mom, distance runner, heart attack survivor and blogger), took a management course called “Dealing with Difficult People Without Losing Your Cool” (and who among us has not signed up for such a course at work, usually with a verrrry specific person in mind?)  Continue reading “A “crazy-making vicious cycle of stress and discontent””

There is no “Fair Fairy” in life

Dark Cordial PIXABAY tug of war

by Carolyn Thomas  ♥  @HeartSisters

In the year 2000, I started working in the field of hospice palliative care.

That experience was more profoundly educational than any university course I’ve ever taken, any book I’ve ever read, any personal growth workshop I’ve shelled out money for.

And the biggest lessons I learned over these years stemmed from one simple truism:

“There is no ‘Fair Fairy’ in life.”    Continue reading “There is no “Fair Fairy” in life”