Have a Heart, Give a Gift

Heart disease, not cancer, is the #1 killer of women.  I learned that and other invaluable information on Carolyn Thomas’ My Heart Sisters blog.

Over the years I’ve “stolen” and reposted many a wonderful post from Carolyn Thomas.  Her blog, Heart Sisters, has been one of the few I’ve followed for years.  I have forgotten what led me to her blog but once I read both her compelling stories and the up-to-date information on  women’s health, in particular heart disease, I was a Carolyn-groupie.  

Apparently Johns Hopkins was a groupie too when they asked her to write a book on Living with Heart Disease.  My guess is that her down-to-earth writing coupled with up-to-date research and information appealed to Johns Hopkins as much as it did to me.

Here’s just a sample of info found on Carolyn’s blog:

“Did you know: Women generally fare far worse than men after experiencing a cardiac event? One possible reason is that it can be confusing to make sense of warning symptoms when they do hit. Women are also less likely than our male counterparts to seek immediate help at the first sign of cardiac symptoms. Instead, we end up:”

  • toughing them out
  • waiting to see if they go away
  • blaming them on stress, muscle soreness, indigestion or other less serious non-cardiac causes

Read 12 cardiac symptoms women must never ignore

I can’t say enough good things about Carolyn – you’ll have to read her book and her blog to see for yourself what fabulous advocacy and education Carolyn has provided since her own “widow-maker” heart attack. (Full disclosure:  we are not related, I’ve never met her in person, and I don’t get a kick-back!)

Buy a copy and give the gift of life to a woman you love . . . maybe it’s even yourself

Save 20% when you use the code HTWN when you pre-order the book from Johns Hopkins

Order your copy click here:  Johns Hopkins University Press 

Johns Hopkins University Press is the publisher and here’s a fraction of what has been said about Carolyn’s Book:

[A Woman’s Guide to Living with Heart Disease] gives women the knowledge they need to become their own advocates in a health care system that continues to be weighted against them.”

“This book brings a needed focus to a leading killer of women today and is a must-read for women and their loved ones.”

“If you are a woman, or love a woman, this is a book for you! Cardiovascular disease is the leading killer of women. Here is a book focused on women’s cardiovascular health. It is all here—prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. Read it for the people you love.”

“This work is an important contribution to the discussion about heart attack and misdiagnosis in women. Thomas’s personal story—alongside the stories of millions of other women—provides a needed reminder of recognizing one’s symptoms, avoiding denial, and seeking medical attention. This elegant book is a unique addition to women’s health books and a necessary read for women and the people who care about them.”

Thank you Carolyn for pushing through your own symptoms to write a book of this magnitude.  

 

“I don’t want to talk about it”

I should go out in the garden and eat worms.  I’m exhausted.  I hurt all over.   It’s hard not to have self-pity.   I TRY to limit my public and private kvetching because I know it doesn’t help . . . me or you.  There’s scientific basis for the harm we do to ourselves when we talk about trauma – any kind of trauma. 

Acrylic on Canvas, by moi

Acrylic on Canvas, by moi

 If you or anyone you know has a “story of pain” (physical, psychological, social, economic etc) read Carolyn Thomas’ My Heart Sisters excellent post.  Here’s a teeny taste:

Rehashing a traumatic story/event does some of the following:

  • puts our system on high alert
  • triggers inflammation
  • triggers the fight/flight response
  • triggers shutdown mode

On the flip side Carolyn talks about the benefits of sharing with close friends:

“Dr. Laura Cousin Klein and her team found that the credit for women’s unique stress reactions may belong to the hormone oxytocin (also known as the “lovehormone”).  It’s the body’s own wonder drug – released when we nurse our babies, for example, as well as during a woman’s stress response. It’s instinctual, it buffers the fight-or-flight response and it encourages us to tend children and gather with other women instead – what’s called our tend-and-befriend response to stress.  This calming response does not occur in men, says Dr. Klein, because testosterone—which men produce in high levels when they’re under stress—seems to reduce the effects of oxytocin. Estrogen, she adds, seems to enhance it.”

Read the entire post “I don’t want to talk about it“- a Judy’s-Must-Read-Blog-Post.

Post-Traumatic GROWTH?

Skimming my surface

tell-tale signs of suffering

The pain buried deep

My haiku was inspired by Carolyn Thomas’ Post-Traumatic Growth: how a crisis makes life better – or not.  Carolyn had a myocardial infarction – the “widowmaker” heart attack.  Since that life altering experience she has been overwhelmingly affected by the ongoing pain of coronary microvascular disease.

Mask by moi

Mask by moi

Until I read Carolyn’s excellent post I had never heard of Post Traumatic GROWTH:

“Post-Traumatic Growth is the experience of positive change that occurs as a result of the struggle with highly challenging life crises.

“Although the term is new, the idea that great good can come from great suffering is ancient.”

“Reports of Post-Traumatic Growth have been found in people who have experienced bereavement, rheumatoid arthritis, HIV infection, cancer, bone marrow transplantation, heart attacks, coping with the medical problems of children, transportation accidents, house fires, sexual assault and sexual abuse, combat, refugee experiences, and being taken hostage.” 

Read this informative and thought-provoking post and Carolyn’s concern for patients & people regarding this concept.  Click HERE

The Mask of Invisibility and Me

In 1996 I contracted an invisible “illness”.  I began experiencing excruciating burning pain in my hands, arms and legs followed by gastrointestinal, cardiological, dermatological, emotional “issues”.  The worst part is I was also in peri-menopause and experiencing mood swings, wildly, uncontrollably ric-o-shaying between happy, content to annoyed and upset.

DSCN1415

In1996 fibromyalgia was not recognized by the medical community as a “real” ailment. Doctors considered it to be a syndrome: Unexplainable, unverifiable and psychosomatic. It was a Hysterical Middle Aged Woman’s Syndrome, as doctor after doctor told me – based on test, after expensive test coming back negative – that nothing was wrong with me and to go home and “Get a life”.DSCN1413

Forever imprinted in my memory is the chief of neurology at one of the major medical centers in Los Angeles (the doctor and medical center shall remain nameless because this is a true story)  looked at me knowingly, like we shared a secret “You’re a psychotherapist. You know about psychological issues” – he leaned forward, compassionately touching me on the knee and winked.  “Go home, live a good life and take up a hobby like kick-boxing.”  The only reason I winked back was to blink away the tears that were threatening to disrupt the façade that I wasn’t a hysterical middle-aged woman.

DSCN1414

I looked for anyone – gynecologists, gastroenterologists, cardiologists, neurologists, rheumatologists, environmental specialists, acupuncturists, immunologists, chiropractors – to put a name to what I had, to give what was invisible to everyone but myself a label other than HYPOCHONDRIAC.  I looked fine, acted fine, all tests were negative.  All I took away from the 100’s of doctor’s visits was a stack of psychiatrist’s cards doctors handed to me on the way out of their office.

After years of escalating pain, exhaustion, depression, countless doctors and tests I really did qualify on all counts as a hysterical middle-aged woman .

Well over a decade after my initial symptoms fibromyalgia was recognized by the medical community as “real” and research has since shown that it’s a central nervous system, brain processing disorder.  

I’m no longer middle-aged or hysterical.  But the doctors were right – it was, it is, all in my head.

This is National Invisible Illness Awareness Week

P.S.  There are hundreds of millions of people with “Invisible Illness” in this world.  Click above to  read more information.  Here’s a tiny sample:

  • Why, when you tell someone who is ill that they look good, they’re offended?
  • Practical ways you can encourage someone who is ill.
  • What’s the difference between a visible and invisible illness when it comes to one’s career?
  • What’s it like to go to college with an invisible chronic illness?

 Check out Carolyn Thomas’ My Heart Sisters –“You look great!” – and other things you should never say to heart patients and lots of other great posts about invisible illness.

Conflicted: Should I hug or SCREAM?

Conflicted

Should I hug or SCREAM

perhaps cry

*

Human condition

Thoughts can betray, lead astray

No one is immune

I just spent an afternoon in an intensive care hospital unit with a colleague.  She had open heart quadruple by-pass surgery. They split her chest open, separated her ribs, stopped her heart, took veins from her legs and grafted them onto her heart.

P1020063

Acylic painting by Lisa,
survivor of a potentially fatal Heart Attack in her 30’s

She had a Widow Maker heart attack – so named because it is usually FATAL.

Listen to what she told me.  It could save your life:  At first she figured it was indigestion, took ant-acid; thought the back pain was because she strained her back;  Symptoms progressed into nausea, fatigue, sweating, (figured something was wrong but she’d feel better in the morning).

When the excruciating pain (as she described it – worse than any childbirth) she didn’t want to go to the ER that night because she was sweaty and needed to take a bath (which she took in the morning before her hair cutting appointment);  Pretended excruciating pain wasn’t anything serious BECAUSE she was “healthy”; During her hair cut she felt faint.  Her hairdresser said it sounded like a heart attack and wanted to call 911; She refused to have her hairdresser call 911, TOLD HER TO FINISH CUTTING HER HAIR, PAID the bill AND THEN DROVE HERSELF to ER (where they immediately wheeled her into surgery)!!!!!!!

My colleague’s story is NOT uncommon.  Why don’t we hear more about Widow Maker Heart Attacks?  Most of the women who have them are DEAD.

I’m screaming at YOU: Stay current. Read Carolyn Thomas  ♥  My Heart Sisters blog  It may not be your life you save but a relative’s, friend’s, colleague’s, client’s . . .  or  . . . it could be YOUR own.

Symptom in women are different from men.  Our Female stubbornness and, dare I say, STOOOOOOOPIDITY has no bounds.  (I know.  I drove myself to the ER when I was having serious heart arrhythmia)

 It’s better to call 911 and be told you’re fine than to die or be disabled for life. 

“The Most Dangerous Word in the World”

Carolyn Thomas has done it again – written a post that I am compelled to steal.  She has single-handedly turned me from a law-abiding citizen to a “blogging” thief.  (use a British accent to reap the full benefit on my play on words).

Cognitive-behavioral therapy has been my focus as a therapist for many, many years. I stopped trying to figure out if clients had been weaned too early as enfants when I first read brain research on obsessive compulsive disorders and how thinking  literally changes the brain’s neurochemical activity thereby diminishing anxiety & depression in mood disorders. (whew! that was a long sentence).  

Research continues to show that cognitive behavioral therapy along with exercise (which also activates certain neurochemical) is better or as good as medication . . . and cheaper in the long run.  Read!  Here’s something even cheaper than therapy and you already have the know-how and tools.

Carolyn’s article hits a home run.  There’s not much I would change. I’m even brazen enough to steal her title.  Carolyn has so many jewels that, without an accomplice, I can’t haul all of them over here all at once.  So here’s an excerpt from her post: (Read the entire post, it’s worth it, by clicking on Carolyn’s title below)

P.S.  Max would have changed the title to “The most OVER-USED word in my world”

“The Most Dangerous Word in the World”

by Carolyn Thomas

It’s “NO”.

Any form of negative rumination – for example, worrying about your health – can stimulate the release of destructive neurochemicals.  Waldman and Newberg [researchers] explain:

“If we were to put you into an fMRI scanner – a huge donut-shaped magnet that can take a video of the neural changes happening in your brain – and flash the word “NO” for less than one second, you’d see a sudden release of dozens of stress-producing hormones and neurotransmitters. These chemicals immediately interrupt the normal functioning of your brain, impairing logic, reason, language processing, and communication.

“In fact, just seeing a list of negative words for a few seconds will make a highly anxious or depressed person feel worse, and the more you ruminate on them, the more you can actually damage key structures that regulate your memory, feelings, and emotions.

“You’ll disrupt your sleep, your appetite, and your ability to experience long-term happiness and satisfaction.”

“These findings are distressing for those of us who are living with a chronic diagnosis like heart disease that can involve quite a bit of day-to-day serious rumination about one’s health”

“But Ohio researchers warn that there’s apparently an intrinsic problem here: the brain barely responds to our positive words and thoughts; they found that even with simple examples (such as showing research subjects pictures of flowers vs pictures of snakes), we tend to react to the scary snakes but barely register a reaction to those nice flowers.** That’s why, they suggest, we need to bulk up on those positives to outweigh the negatives.”

“Finally, Waldman and Newberg remind us of the findings of Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, (one of the founders of the field of Positive Psychology) and others whose work suggests that we need to generate 3-5 positive thoughts and feelings for each expression of negativity.  They add:

“Our advice: choose your words wisely and speak them slowly. This will allow you to interrupt the brain’s propensity to be negative, and as recent research has shown, the mere repetition of positive words will turn on specific genes that lower your physical and emotional stress.”’

To get ALL the loot you will have to steal over to her site . . .Heart Sisters

(She already knows I’m  giving  you the keys to her vault – she never locks it anyway, she has a very trusting heart . . .)

Footprint on my Heart

Footprint on mon coeur.

                 dis-ease of broken heart or

                                 evidence d’ amour?

I’ve “borrowed” again from Carolyn Thomas’ My Heart Sisters:

“This year, heart disease will kill six times more women than breast cancer will.  In fact, heart disease kills more women each year than all forms of cancer combined.”

Watch this 3-minute film called “Just a Little Heart Attack” from the American Heart Association. It was originally brought to my attention by Carolyn Thomas.  Please share with others.

And READ THIS from Carolyn

“When other researchers reporting in the New England Journal of Medicine looked at more than 10,000 patients (48% women) who had gone to their hospital Emergency Departments with chest pain or other heart attack symptoms, they found that women under the age of 55 are SEVEN TIMES more likely to be misdiagnosed in mid-heart attack than their male counterparts are.”

“And it gets worse! In 2005, the American Heart Association surveyed physicians in the U.S. to see how many were aware that more women than men die of heart disease each year (a statistic that’s been true since they started keeping track in 1984).

Only 8% of family doctors knew this fact, and (much worse!!) only 17% of CARDIOLOGISTS were aware of it. CARDIOLOGISTS! This is their business. This is all they do!! Shocking, really!”

Do check out Carolyn’s blog.  She does an amazing job keeping up with the latest news and research and information.  Here’s a sample of a funny post that may not be so funny:

Is My Bra Too Tight?