Friday, February 06, 2009

In the Red.....

As most of my friends and faithful readers know, I'm all about pink and breast cancer awareness. But today is Go Red For Women Day, to help women recognize that the leading killer of women is heart disease. I am proud to wear a red sweater in solidarity with women who are battling heart disease, have come back from it, and all those we've lost to it.

Think about it, though: Heart disease: #1 killer in the US, and certainly #1 in South Carolina. #1 with a very deadly bullet. And overall, heart disease has been the number one killer of Americans for a century -- every year running since 1918, and tops since 1900. Heart disease: #1 ..... and preventable.

That statistic gives me chills, especially given my own families' history with heart disease. History isn't a strong enough word -- we're practically the Ginger Rogers to its Fred Astaire. I lost every single grandparent to some type of cardiovascular disease: my mother's parents to heart attacks, my dad's to strokes. The #1 and #3 killers, nationwide, and so very closely linked. My maternal grandmother's family is a cardiologist's dream or nightmare (I'm not sure which). A family reunion is more of a medical convention -- litanies of whose triglycerides have worsened or improved the most, discussions on the latest in cardiac management. Crazy, right? In my own family, my mother is hypertensive and has been for almost as long as I can remember. She is adamant about staying on top of this disease. She doesn't miss a daily dose of her BP meds; matter of fact, she gets incredibly dizzy and weak if she does. My brother is also hypertensive, but a little less regular about his meds. My father, thanks be, shows no signs of any of it so far. But since both his parents had strokes, I live in dread fear of it happening to him.

With this sort of family history, and given my contrary nature, one would think then that I would spend much of my adult life doing everything I could to NOT be one of the statistics. Right. I kept happily and heartily digging my eventual grave with a fork and spoon. The closest I came to even worrying about my heart was the night I was having a gallbladder attack. I had had similar symptoms a couple of weeks earlier, but was able to alleviate the muscle pain fairly easily. This night, it was about 1:30 AM, and I felt the pain shoot all the way up to my shoulders. I lay in my bed in horrific pain and my first thought was, "I am going to die here because I am too embarrassed to call for help. I am going to die here of a .... what is this?" Then the next thought was "OMG, is this a heart attack?" The only way I knew it wasn't was because the pain was far more concentrated in my abdomen, and tests a couple of weeks later confirmed a humongo gallstone. But once I knew what it was, I didn't give any additional thought to my heart.

I knew my extra poundage could not be healthy for my heart, but denial ain't just a river in Egypt. If I thought the whole scenario through to its logical conclusion, I would scare myself to death. Easier to be an ostrich and pretend it just doesn't exist. But you can't live like that at all. Eventually I would have to do SOMETHING. You would think gallbladder surgery would have been the impetus. Not at all. It took a very minor problem -- really, more of a fly in the ointment of my life -- to get it going. That and a doctor's kind words and confidence in me. I don't know what it was that made me pull my head out of the sand either, but I did.

I would be colossally naive to think that 36-plus years of abuse did no damage to my heart. Please, I'm an optimist, but that's wandering into the Land of Pure Stupidity. I can hope that nearly 3 years of an improved lifestyle have done something to reverse whatever damage I have caused. Dr. Ornish's studies show that change can occur. I hope that I have put my heart back on a healthy track so that I don't have a coronary issue someday. But I still need to educate myself ..... just in case.

And so here I am, on Go Red For Women Day .... learning what I can do to prevent heart disease from getting more of a foothold. And I encourage you to do the same. Ladies and gents, we have to stop this disease in its tracks as much as possible. And I'm willing to bet that if we stop #1, then we can also shorten the effects of #2 (cancers) and #3 (strokes).... also all preventable by the same methods. Imagine that. And we have to stop it in ourselves, or our kids might not live long enough to stop it.

No comments: