Think about that for a moment. What immediately comes to your mind when you hear that? How many of you suffer from it? How many of your loved ones do or did at one point? Now how many of you haven’t even given it a second thought?
Think about this…
“1 in 3 deaths of women each year are caused by heart disease, killing one woman approximately every 80 seconds.” -American Heart Association
That makes it the number one killer of women. At this moment, it may be a tough pill to swallow, but how likely is it that in a couple of days (or even hours), it may just become an after thought? As women, we already have an upward battle with everything else in our life that we are either justifying, advocating, or just trying to understand. We are constantly thinking of what needs to be done, who needs to be taken care of, and what priority needs to be met.
You begin to get that feeling. You know…the stress bubble. It almost feels like it starts in your stomach, slowly makes its way up your lungs, and sits directly on your chest. It’s a heavy feeling. Almost unbearable some times. So much that tears may roll down your face. Maybe at that very moment you question if what you’re feeling is normal. Is this anxiety or am I having a heart attack? The fear sets in. “I’m too young for this. I have a family. This can’t be happening. Oh God, I promise I’ll take better care of myself.” You then take a deep breath and everything is still for that brief moment. You may even laugh at yourself for having such a ridiculous thought, but the truth is that more than likely we’ve all had the fear of dying or have even been close to it.
Genetically speaking, I am destined for heart disease. My maternal grandfather (52 yrs old) and uncle (47 years old) both died from arteriosclerosis, while my other uncle had open heart surgery before he was 55. Where it hits home most, is with my mom. She started having issues at 17 and was diagnosed with high blood pressure when she was 26 years old. She began her journey with heart disease in the prime of her life. She was active and incredibly healthy, but unfortunately genetics cast its shadow. She has dealt with the effects ever since, from having her main artery 100% blocked to recently having a mild heart attack. She hasn’t even reached her 60s. Arteriosclerosis, which is known as hardening of the arteries, can begin as a child. It can grow rapidly and be very unforgiving. Thankfully, my mom and uncle are both survivors and actively taking steps to stay healthy.
I am turning 35 this year, and my mind continues to spin it’s wheels. Many factors play into my chances of dealing with cardiovascular issues. The AHA states that Hispanic women are more likely to develop heart disease. Not only do they develop issues almost 10 years earlier than Caucasian women, but it’s the the leading cause for their death, killing nearly 21,000 Hispanic women annually (source: American Heart Association). I have been trying to take all necessary means to prevent this ugly beast from appearing, especially after I became pregnant with my first daughter. It’s amazing how growing a little human being can impact every aspect of your life, even the ones you conveniently pushed aside. I realized that in order to be a mom, I have to be present first and foremost. That meant making life changes to take care of myself. I began eating clean and working out regularly. Sure, there are times that I will eat things that are not on the recommended list. I’m human. I am a mom, a wife, a business woman. I am stressed, overwhelmed, and need to remind myself to take deep breaths, and yeah sometimes an emotional eater. When I have my moments, I remember that I have to be an example for my daughters, because they too have to worry about this disease.
A couple of months ago, I began having issues with anxiety, but didn’t take it seriously until I began having chest pains. Trust me, I’m that type of person that will brush things off when I feel pain. Maybe it’s my high pain tolerance or my relentless pride. Either way, neither are good excuses for prolonging a check up. I tell myself at times that I had two babies naturally, and can tackle anything after that. The thing is, I have to be honest with myself. I have to listen to my body. I cannot afford to wait. It would be very selfish of me to not take care of myself, especially for my family. Sometimes, the thought or fear of dying sets in. It’s not one that is really welcomed, especially when we have so much to live for. I’m sure we’ve all thought about it at some point.
Driven by fear and reality, I decided to finally practice what I preach, and take the necessary steps to check my pride at the door. Here are 3 steps I’m going to do to take care of my heart and overall health. Hopefully you all can join me in this challenge.
Make my health a priority.
First step—make an appointment for my well-woman checkup. I need to stop prolonging something that can save my life. I’m not going to lie, fear keeps me from going to see the doctor. What if they find something? What if they don’t? Either way, knowledge is power. It gives you the necessary information to make smart choices and to actively keep living in the positive direction. I need to be able to trust what my body is actively trying to tell me. It’s not always what I want to hear, nor is it easy to digest. Either way, it’s important that I do.
My goal is to understand how heart disease is relevant in my life. What can I do to proactively take on this disease? What clues should I look for regarding having a heart attack? What can I do to help provide information to others about this disease? How can I help my children become heart strong at a young age? All these questions follow me regularly, and thankfully there are some amazing resources such as the Amercian Heart Association’s Go Red For Women campaign (https://www.goredforwomen.org/).
Remove unnecessary stress, and replace it with things that provide value.
Oh if it were that easy, right? So it begins with the little things. Pesky little things that start to add up. Either way, it’s time for a stress cleanse. I refuse to stress about the Mt. Everest of laundry or the pile of dishes that overwhelms the kitchen sink. A walk around the lake, a cup of coffee with friends, a Zumba class, a laugh session with my daughters…each will now and continue to trump over things that I thought needed immediate attention. More than likely they don’t, and honestly, I’m pretty sure I’m the only one in my household who stresses over them. I have decided to not place ridiculous expectations on people or events, because at the end of the day, I am only in control of how I respond. So guess what? I choose joy. I will learn how to press the refresh button regularly.
So even though February is dedicated to heart health, we need to dedicate ourselves to our health daily. Remember heart disease is called the silent killer, solely because it won’t give you another chance to start over. What will you do today to help your heart? Choose joy, be proactive, and become informed!
Heart disease does not discriminate.