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Here we are again with yet another of my post-hospital updates and I am hoping that this is the last one for a very long time. This was quite the adventure so you might want to get comfy for the long read. I’m going to start off by thanking my family and friends who were such a big support last week while I was in hospital and Bryan was stuck in Germany. I am grateful to have such wonderful people in my life.

You are likely wondering what happened seeing as I had an extremely mild heart attack in August and everything seemed to be going quite well. Things went a little haywire and I’m posting my story to illustrate how imperative it is that we advocate for our health—to realize that not all physicians know our bodies as well as we do.

I was back to running and feeling better than I had in a very long time. I had the all-clear to train for events again but I needed to build my base first. A Spring half-marathon was on my mind and my Cardiologist, Dr. J. was on-board with that as well. I went for a run on the trails with my teenaged son on the Sunday and then to the gym on Thursday. There was lots of walking on the days inbetween. It was almost 35K in a week which was more than I had done in some time but I was very cautious about not overdoing things. Friday evening I was tired but I figured that was because I was getting up really early every day and reading late into the night. Saturday I started to have warmth on the back of my neck, shoulder and arm. I went out to the camp gathering we were hosting and came home early. By Sunday it had worsened. My husband Bryan was heading to Germany for an important work project so I sugar-coated how I felt and he flew out Sunday on schedule. By Monday morning the pain was so horrible that I made the decision to go to the Emergency Room at Brantford General Hospital (BGH). I was sent home as the doctor felt it was muscle strain. Tuesday morning I walked my daughter to school and I also walked her home at the end of the day. The pain was worsening. About an hour after she went to bed it was as bad as it was before I went to the hospital back in August. I tried the Nitroglycerin spray that I had been prescribed and, after the third dose didn’t provide any relief,  my son helped me get ready for the hospital. I was on the verge of collapse so an ambulance was called.

Once in the ambulance the paramedics were having a tough time deciding if I should go to Hamilton or Brantford. My ECG wasn’t bad enough for them to take me straight to Hamilton General so BGH it was. I was taken immediately into the ER and my Troponin levels were tested repeatedly… they came back negative for heart attack. During the last round of blood work the technician couldn’t even get a teaspoon of blood from my right arm which was strange. The fact that I wasn’t having a heart attack was a relief however there was still gripping pain like someone was squeezing my heart. Sometime in the wee hours Wednesday morning I had relief from the pain because of a multitude of nitroglycerin doses and pain medications. I finally saw an Internist who told me he had a strong background in cardiology. We’ll call him Dr. A for now. We talked about my horrendous family history of heart disease, what I had been through, and then he said “I’m not accepting patients right now but I’d like to take your case on in my private practice.” Then he went on to say that he felt this was unstable angina and that he thought my cardiologist gave me false hope about the collateral artery business. Dr. A. acted as if Dr. J. was clueless. He wanted to send me home with an increased dosage of blood pressure medication, a nitroglycerin patch, and a pain medicine that I believe he said is normally used for gout so I wouldn’t feel the symptoms. I don’t have gout so I wasn’t sure how that would help but maybe I was missing something. I asked if I would be able to exercise. He bluntly said “no”. I asked if I would be able to walk Kaia to school. He said “no” again. So there it was… his solution was to cover the pain and have me become completely sedentary—a couch potato.

Not acceptable!!

My intuition told me I was heading for another heart attack. I knew I had a blockage… after all I’ve been in this position before and remember all too well what it felt like. I told him that I have a cardiologist that I quite like and that I live an active lifestyle that I am not about to give up on that easily. I insisted that he send me to Hamilton General for an angioplasty. Dr. A. told me that this idea was “ridiculous” as I had just had one in August. He said I “would be wasting everyone’s time” and that I just “need to learn to live with this unstable angina”. He told me I had done this to myself and I had to take my lumps. I let him know that if he discharged me I would go above his head at BGH or straight to Hamilton General’s emergency department. I mentioned that I know my body and that this felt just like it did the last two times. I asserted myself and he reluctantly relented. Dr. A. learned just what a strong advocate I am for my health. I told him that it seemed to me his policy was to wait until the patient has a heart attack rather than try and prevent it while my cardiologist’s approach is prevention. I reiterated that I was not about to go home and sit on my ass and wait for something more serious to happen.

Unbelievable!

Finally, after I protested quite strongly, Dr. A. gave in and said he’d call Hamilton General to see what they thought but that they would not likely take me in for an angiogram. He felt that they would deem it as useless as he did. He was being very pompous and clearly didn’t like that I dared question his judgement. He seemed very frustrated with my denial that his first choice of treatment was the right course of action. I didn’t care because this was my life hanging in the balance.

Come Thursday morning Bryan was still trying to get a flight home but I insisted that he stay and finish his work. Everything here was under control. I was booked to go to Hamilton for 10 am with the procedure to be done at 1 pm. Dr. A. came into see me before the transport and said “You can still stop this and save everyone a lot of resources. They will not find anything!” I retorted “You’ll find out today just how much I know my body.” I was upset that he would even say this to a cardiac patient before an invasive procedure. He was quite snotty about the whole thing and seemed aggravated that I even questioned his diagnosis and treatment plan.

I was transported to Hamilton shortly after the doctor left. The nurses remembered me from last time and were shocked to see me back. One of the nurses left my file where I could reach it so I decided to read through the report from the doctors in Brantford. Dr. A. and the doctor from Monday’s ER visit had put in my file that I suffer from acid reflux among other falsehoods. I think the only time I’ve had anything remotely similar to that is when I was in my last weeks of pregnancy and when I had the heart problems in August… that was my heart not reflux. It was also stated that I saw Dr. J. in September because of continued chest pain. More BS. I saw him because I underwent testing to see if I could get back to running and the gym. The notes painted an incorrect picture which I assume was because the staff didn’t pay attention to the history I was giving them or perhaps it was to cover someone’s ass. Who knows? Still, it was incorrect. The nurse reprimanded me for reading my file when I drew this to her attention. Oops. Apparently I am not allowed to see my medical file without permission even though it is about my health. Go figure.

The angiogram started right on schedule which is quite unusual—it’s a busy place. This time I had Dr. T. who is the same surgeon I had for the first angioplasty in March 2014 when I also had a similar battle about getting checked out. He is a fabulous surgeon and back then had found a blockage that many doctors would have overlooked as it appeared to be a shadow on the imaging more so than a blockage. This was due to it being near an abnormal bend in the artery. I was conscious, as always, during the procedure which is rather freaky. I couldn’t feel my body but my I was lucid and aware of what was going on. He accessed the heart through my right wrist and found a blockage, with the similar shadowing issues at a bend—this time in the other side of my heart. He looked at my right coronary (RCA), for what seemed like an awfully long time. He called in another surgeon to look as well. The contrast dye was increased and sure enough my RCA had a 90% blockage. He used a balloon and a stent to repair the issue. The investigation and procedure took just under two hours. It went flawlessly and I was sent to recovery. I had a slight hematoma starting in my wrist as the clamp was loosened but the nurse was right on top of things unlike last time with my leg.

Later Dr. T. came to see me and I asked if this was a new blockage. He said that was somewhat unlikely for a blockage of that size to pop up in less than two months but it can happen. He also told me that I have a myocardial bridge. That’s something I would have been likely born with but, despite two previous PCIs no one has ever mentioned it. Dr. T. said it was brilliant that I knew my body so well and advocated for the angiogram because had I not this would have resulted in a heart attack causing a great deal of tissue death or, even worse, my demise.

Gulp!

I was transported back to BGH at 7 pm. I got settled back into my room and Nurse Judy came to see me. I told her what had happened and that I wanted to see Dr. A. in the morning to talk with him. She said that she already saw the report and of course he would see me… after all he would be the one releasing me so it wouldn’t be an issue.

Fast forward to last Friday morning. Nurse Judy came with my release papers and they had already been signed by a doctor without anyone coming to see me. I signed everything and reiterated that I would like to speak with to Dr. A. I could hear his voice down the hallway. Two hours passed and Dr. H. came to see me instead. She got quite the earful albeit very politely as it wasn’t her fault that Dr. A. put her in this awkward position. Dr. H. also saw me back in August and knew a bit about my situation. I explained to her that I was upset with what had transpired and that I planned to pursue the matter of his unprofessional behaviour with the proper governing authorities.

What angers and scares me about this is that some most patients would have just accepted what he said to be the right course of action because he is, after all, the Doctor. I can’t fathom that Dr. A. was going to put me at risk for a potentially fatal heart attack so he could drum up business for his practice and how much he was belittling me in the process. I’m upset that he didn’t take my symptoms seriously and treated me like I was wasting resources. I’m appalled that he didn’t have the integrity to come and face me when it turned out he was very wrong. He could have at least apologized but I suspect this is a case of ego. What an… insert whatever expletive comes to your mind.

The bottom line and the reason I share this is to remind all of us that we need to advocate for ourselves because sometimes doctors are driven by agendas other than doing the best for their patients. We have to educate ourselves and be assertive about our care because, in many cases, the reality is that we are just another number. I was “bed 1 in room 558 on the 5th floor”.

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It has taken me three weeks of soul searching to decide if I should post this on my blog. This is a very personal account and it’s difficult for me to put it out here for the whole world to read. I finally decided to go ahead with it because I’ve been quite open about everything thus far and maybe, through the sharing of my journey, I can help someone else who might be experiencing something similar.

As many of you know I underwent a PCI in March 2014. I had a blockage in a small artery and it was discovered, thanks to having a fit lifestyle, before there was a heart attack or any damage. Time passed and I tried repeatedly to train for races earlier this year. I couldn’t seem to train well. I knew I had lost cardiovascular ability but I assumed it was just because I hadn’t run enough. My blog posts spoke of anxiety when I ran but it wasn’t anxiety and what happened next was a bit of a shock to both my doctors and to me.

indian head cove

indian head cove

The first week of August we vacationed at Bruce Peninsula National Park. The first night at Cyprus Lake was simply awful. I had aches in my right arm that I attributed to shooting a 9mm at the range a few days before. I felt fatigued all week but continued to enjoy hikes on the rugged shorelines of Georgian Bay. I had been burning the candle at both ends for weeks so I chalked the exhaustion up to that and pushed through. My neck and left shoulder were a little sore but I figured that was from sleeping on the ground in a backpacking tent. We ended up having a wonderful week and the fatigue eventually passed. We came home, unpacked, and started to settle back into our routine.

Early Sunday morning (August 9th) I went to the gym with Carla. I overslept and basically grabbed an energy bar on my way out the door. I wasn’t feeling the best but I figured a good workout would energize me. I did my usual warm up on the bike but it was much slower than usual. Then we did upper body with free weights before going to the machines to do legs. When I was on the leg press machine I had some mild heartburn which I attributed to the energy bar and being in a reclined position. I was quiet on the ride home which is unlike me. When I got home the heartburn wouldn’t go away even with multiple doses of an antacid. I went to lay down for a bit because the fatigue became extreme. Finally the heartburn stopped, nausea started, and I napped. I got up for a light dinner and felt slightly better but I was still beyond tired.

At 11:20 pm I made the decision to get Bryan to drive me to the ER. I packed some essentials because my intuition told me this was my heart. I was admitted immediately and it was suspected, due to elevated Troponin levels in my blood, that I had suffered a very mild heart attack. What!? I thought maybe I was having warning signs but was utterly shocked that this was an actual heart attack. Where was the gripping pain? The sudden collapse? I mention this because often women don’t have obvious symptoms and a lot comes down to intuition. I knew things weren’t right and I had known since that night at Cyprus Lake. I was ticked. I had worked so hard since I started running to prevent heart disease from being such a big factor in my life, yet here I was.

The next step was to find out why and I was admitted to the Cardiac Ward. Less than 48 hours after arriving at the ER I was transported to the Cardiac Clinic at Hamilton General Hospital to undergo an angiogram to see what was happening inside my heart. I was terrified and thought that I had done all this hard work for naught… thinking the heart disease has progressed. So, what was the cause? A new blockage? Not exactly. The original stents (two drug-eluting stents that overlapped) that had been placed in an offshoot artery last year had closed because of my body creating scar tissue inside the foreign object. This is called in-stent restenosis… bleh. I have other names for it!

I was taken to the surgery for the angiogram and possible angioplasty.  I’d been here before so I knew what to expect, however, the procedure wasn’t as simple as it had been for me in 2014. They had problems going through my wrist and had to abort because of oozing and resume by going through my femoral artery. That went well enough from what I can see in the surgery report. They fixed the restenosis by using something called a Pantera Lux Paclitaxel Releasing Balloon. This is a relatively new solution that has only been approved in Canada for a short time. It is a medication coated balloon that is used to open the stent back up. The balloon is inflated and then removed leaving the medication behind.

After the surgeon did the angioplasty he came to talk with me. The doctor said he didn’t see any damage and his interpretation is that this was very severe angina and not a heart attack because there was no damage. When I questioned him about his opinion vs what the internist at Brantford General said, he put it this way… “If you gently bump another car in a parking lot and there is no sign of damage whatsoever is it still considered an accident? That depends who you ask.” Either way, it was a good thing I hadn’t delayed going to the hospital any longer than I already had.  The surgeon also mentioned that an additional artery had started forming. Creepy. We all have these lying dormant in our bodies but because of a relatively active lifestyle one of mine came to life, so to speak, in order to compensate for the restenosis. He informed me that they couldn’t fix the problem with the blocked stent 100% because it also affected a secondary spot and that I may experience some some discomfort when I run but that if I could exercise through it this “new” artery will continue to grow. That could eventually eliminate the symptoms and improve my heart health even more. That seemed promising.

Here’s where it got a wee bit scary. Three hours post-procedure the nurses went to remove the shunt from the artery in my leg and I started to hemorrhage. They applied pressure until the bleeding stopped. Then the ladies left the room and within 5-minutes I was screaming for them to come back because I now had a hematoma on my upper thigh the size of an American football. The nurses applied pressure to reduce that and tipped my bed so my head was at the floor. About this time I passed out so I’m not sure what happened next. When I awoke the nurse helped me to get up and walk around but the pain in my leg was excruciating. I looked down only to see one of the ugliest and biggest bruises I’ve ever had. Finally at 5 am I was transported back to Brantford.

my bruise - 2 weeks later

my bruise – 2 weeks after

My bruising from the hematoma was so severe that they were concerned about micro-aneurysms and clots. I was sent for ultrasound on that leg and also for blood flow on my left leg. Everything came back inconclusive although they had a hard time seeing sections of the bruised thigh. The bruise went right up to my hip and was starting to creep down my leg. I had to find a balance between walking enough to prevent blood clots and dealing with the pain of a growing bruise. I managed. I had a few other issues while at the hospital and was finally released the afternoon of the sixth day. I was happy to be going home.

When I arrived home I immediately called my own cardiologist to make a follow-up appointment. Rather than see me first and then send me for tests, Dr. J. decided that I should have a Cardiolite Exercise Test on the treadmill so I did that day before yesterday. The doctor didn’t pull me from the test but at almost 11-minutes I asked to stop because of hypoglycemia. Silly diabetes. Thankfully I had reached 87% of my maximum heart rate which was more than enough for their purposes as they only needed me to get to 85%. I felt good and it was really nice to run again but I won’t really know anything until I meet with Dr. J. next Tuesday. Then I will have a clear idea of where I am at with this and if there are further issues.

So that’s the scoop. If this was indeed a heart attack it was uber-mild. Once again, I was very fortunate and listening to my body played a big part in this. I’m doing everything I can but I’m also battling genetics which makes this a really tough fight. I’m grateful that this was not a new issue in another part of my heart and that the disease has not progressed, as far as we know. I’m relieved that all the fitness and nutrition wasn’t for naught.

I’ll share an update once I see the cardiologist in a week but I’m quite confident that this is not an issue of if I can run again but more a matter of when I can run again. When I do start back it’s not going to be easy but as Bethany Hamilton says… “I don’t need easy, I just need possible.”

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Yes, this is a race report. It has been a long time coming, hasn’t it? Now that you’ve picked your jaw up off the keyboard… grab your beverage of choice (I’m having Hibiscus tea) and get comfortable because this is going to be a bit of a read. Before I get into the summation of the event I will give a bit of a preamble for those who haven’t followed this journey of mine.

Where to start? Well, I suppose the last races are as good a place as any.

In October 2013 I participated in three events. The first two were on the first weekend of the month. Run for the Toad was a 12.5K leg of a trail relay on a very hilly course at Pinehurst Lake Conservation Area. The next day I completed a 5K Colour Run on the trails in Christie Lake Conservation Area. I felt unwell that weekend. The third race, later in October, was my first and only one that started but didn’t finish. I panicked halfway through the course. I was consciously worried about breaking my ankle but there was also a deeper level of anxiety. Ironically a few weeks later I broke my toes. The deeper anxiety, in hindsight, was that I was a running time bomb with an artery that was almost 80% blocked.

the hospital stay

the hospital stay

As you may have read, I had a procedure to fix that in March of 2014. Luckily I didn’t have a heart attack nor did I cause heart damage. Running had saved my life and I was determined to pick up where I left off in late 2013.

Recovery was tough. I ran but not the way I used to. Physically there was nothing holding me back. I had the all-clear from the doctors to run, train on hills, weight lift and whatever else I wanted to tackle. To be honest, I was terrified. I signed up for races and bailed over and over again. A full marathon, half marathons, 5Ks, 10Ks, all came and went. Race day would arrive and I would lose my nerve. Training suffered over the year and anxiety became the norm. I’d hop off the treadmill every 10 minutes during a run to check my blood pressure. I’d run a handful of times each month but training had gone to the wayside. I could bike 10 to 20K at an all-out pace at the gym but to run for even a few kilometers was stressful. Sure there were a thousand reasons why it was so hard, after all I had lost my base, but the bottom line is that I was scared. It takes a lot for me to admit that the thought of running at a race was so crippling to me. Fear and anxiety took over.

There was a breaking point. A month ago I dropped out of the Niagara Falls Women’s Half Marathon. I wasn’t trained but I had agreed to run part of it. My friend Carla had signed up just after I had and I wanted to be there to support her like she has done for me over and over. A family issue arose and I had to cancel. In doing so, I felt that I had really let my friend down and I felt horrible about it. That said, I was relieved that I wasn’t running despite what was going on here. Fear had reared its’ ugly head yet again and regret crept into the mix. Letting myself down is one thing but letting a close friend down was really upsetting. I don’t have words for how bad I felt.

About a week before the Niagara event I signed up for Long Point Eco-Adventures’ Smugglers Run Trail Race near Turkey Point, Ontario. There were three distances but because it was trail run and my running base was shot, I chose the smallest of the three which was 6K. For weeks before the event I wrestled with whether I should run it. What if I had more heart problems? I could injure myself, after all I hadn’t worked on a solid running base. What if I was last? What would people think? What if the cardiologist was wrong and I had a heart attack on the course? What if something happened with the kids while I was out running? What if? What if? I was overthinking everything and being a little dramatic.

I resolved that I was not going to back out of this race. I was going to brave the start line and that even if I had to walk the entire race, I would cross the finish line. It had been 21 months since I had completed an event. 21 months! Time to suck it up and move forward. With the support of a great circle of friends I prepared for race day.

And… finally the race report.

pre-race selfie

pre-race selfie

I arose at 5:20 am and groggily got ready to leave. Bryan and I had an hour drive and wanted to meet our friend Mandi, around 7:30. The morning was gorgeous and the drive out was a little foggy but nice. We drove through the countryside and made our way to Turkey Point arriving at Long Point Eco-Adventures around the time that we had planned. Long Point Eco-Adventures is a wonderful facility. There was an observation tower, zip lining and all sorts of other things. The property was directly across from the Burning Kiln Winery.

We explored for a bit and had a snack. I was in capris but at the last moment decided to change into my running shorts because it was warming up considerably. Mandi was kind enough to share some homemade bug repellant that she had created and then we headed to the start line so we could cheer the 18K and 12K runners as they took off on the trails. In all there was about a hundred runners. I was mentally prepared that the worst case scenario would be a lovely walk in the woods. My mantra was that “forward is a pace”.

the cool race bib

the cool race bib

The race officials sent us out 10 minutes early which was great because I was raring to go. The course wound around and down a bit of an incline. So far so good. Then we got to a boardwalk and there was a right turn in the middle of it. No big deal, right? Well, it was quite a step down into eroded and uneven ground and it faced the steepest hill I’ve ever seen. Yes, steeper and longer than Skeleton Hill at Run for the Toad. Goodness gracious. Mandi and Bryan had run ahead so I was quite happily running on my own. I was dead last but I had the second and third last people in my sights. As I crested the hill and came around the corner into the fields, there was Bryan. He was waiting to run with me and he had picked a wild Brown-eyed Susan which he handed to me when I ran to him. I tucked it into my Bondi Band and off we ran.

© Wilson Photography

© Wilson Photography

He was determined to run the rest of the course with me. We spent quite a bit of time walking as the hills were brutal. Did I mention it was really hilly? Parts of the course had two-way traffic and it was quite narrow so there were pauses to let the runners doing the 18K pass by. Every once in a while he’d swat a mosquito on my back. I suppose I should have worn a light coloured shirt and used bug repellant on my torso. Oops.

Just around the 5K mark Bryan had an epic wipeout. He tripped on a root and his shoe went flying down a steep embankment and his iPod went in the other direction. Bryan landed right in the damp dirt. We were only a few meters from the paramedics when they heard me yell to see if he was all right. Bryan was a bit embarrassed and his toe is very badly bruised. We lost a few minutes while he retrieved his gear but this race wasn’t about time for us and the wee break gave me a little umph for a stronger finish. I was determined to finish even if I was dead last, but my chivalrous husband made me go ahead of him. I crossed the finish line with the flower still in my headband.

The best way I can describe this course is that if you were to take a 12.5K loop from Run for the Toad and condense the elevations there into 6K, you have the Smugglers Run. Holy technical and hilly—the kind of hills that chew you up and spit you out. My lack of training was evident and I had to walk more than I wanted to. The time on my Garmin time read 01:10:34 and my official chip time was 01:12:19.

the casks

the casks

After we crossed the finish line we collected our commemorative glass mugs that were given instead of finishers medals and headed over to Burning Kiln Winery for our complimentary glass of wine. I enjoyed a most delicious Cab-Franc as the awards were given out.

Would I run this again?

You bet, but I’d actually train for it next time. Long Point Eco-Adventures hosted a fabulous event. There was great volunteer support on the trail with water stations every few kilometers. The route was stunningly beautiful.

I am so happy that I went out and braved the start line. Of course, I had the typical post-race high and during that booked to run the same distance in another trail race named Chase the Coyote in Mono Cliffs Provincial Park. The race is at the end of September and that gives me time to get some decent hill training in. I’m running the Oasis ZooRun 10K in Toronto a few weeks before and that course isn’t exactly flat either.

I sure do things the hard way as this wasn’t exactly a moderate course for my first race after such a long sabbatical, but adversity met perseverance on Sunday and it feels great to be back! The crippling fear has been conquered and laid to rest.

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If you’ve been following my blog ramblings for any length of time then you’ve read about my battle with heart disease. If not, let me get you up to speed. If you already know about my journey then feel free to skip ahead to the update.

My History

I have horrible family genetics when it comes to premature coronary disease causing death and there is also a history of diabetes. Couple that with my former self being severely overweight and sedentary… well you have a ticking time bomb. That would have been the case but I decided, after watching family member after family member suffer from heart disease, that I was going to change my life. I lost weight. I lost a lot of weight. Then I was diagnosed with diabetes. I became even more proactive about my health and reversed the need for diabetes medications. I fought for my life and fought hard.

I saw a cardiologist for a full work-up when I first started running. I had to push for this because it isn’t a standard part of a physical from a family doctor. I was diagnosed with left ventricular hypertrophy (LVH) and my aortic valve had a very mild stenosis. The LVH was likely due to my former size as it was reversing. Things were going swimmingly and I ran my first half marathon. Then I accidentally kicked a dumbbell and broke two of the toes on my left foot. After they healed I returned to running and my cardio was worse than it was when I was obese. It didn’t make sense. I thought something wasn’t right, that this was more than a setback due to the toe business. I went to the cardiologist and failed a treadmill stress test but before I got the results I decided I should go to the emergency ward. I still felt really off. Less than a week later I was at home recovering from what is called Percutaneous Transluminal Coronary Angioplasty. In other words, I had two stents placed in a branch off the left circumflex artery. You can read the whole story in the blog post named Fixing My Broken Heart.

I had to come to terms that no matter how perfectly I did everything, genetics will always play a role. My cardiologist, Dr. J. has explained to me that I am doing everything right and that is why I didn’t have a heart attack or heart damage despite having a significant blockage. He told me my heart was strong. I was cleared to run a full marathon but I was to avoid things like heavy lifting. What followed was months of anxiety. Panic would set in when I would run longer distances. I was stressed and upset. I dropped out of all my races including the marathon. I had worked so hard to prevent heart disease and I was very disappointed in myself even though I didn’t have control over much of it due to genetics. I was bummed.

The update

So, now that you have the background, here is what happened on Friday’s visit to Dr. J. I stressed for days about it. I went to my appointment expecting to be told that I had to limit things like weight lifting at the gym and serious hill training for races like Run for the Toad. What happened next caught me off guard. Here is how the appointment went…

I had an echo-cardiogram first, followed by an EKG and measurements for blood pressure, weight and abdominal circumference. Finally it was time to consult with the doctor. Dr. J. is a rather pompous guy but not so with me. Well, not since the first visit when he started to lecture me about weight loss and I handed him my before photo. He knows I’m really proactive and that I take his advice very seriously.

So I am still dealing with Familial Hypercholesterolaemia (say that five times fast) and that is something genetic which I have no control of. In other words, I will likely be on a cholesterol lowering medication for the rest of my life no matter how healthy a lifestyle I lead. Thanks Dad! We talked about some new research into a monthly injection that has had great success in Europe and is going through trials here. It won’t be available to me for several years but it could be an alternative that is less harmful to the body.

The verdict… everything is great… really great! I can go off the blood thinner in 60 days. No more polka dot bruising from having NERF dart wars with my kids. No more anemia! I asked about lifting heavier amounts at the gym. I asked about training for Run for the Toad and other trail races where there are wicked hills. When I heard his response I was compelled to ask him two or three times to be sure my ears weren’t deceiving me. I have the all clear for anything I want to try. He said run hills, climb mountains… whatever I want. In fact, I have NO restrictions whatsoever!! I had to completely restrain myself from doing a happy dance in Dr. J.’s office. NO restrictions!!

Much of the success of this appointment and all of what I have been through with my heart and with diabetes has been due to my dedication to having a healthy lifestyle. Losing weight in a healthy way, keeping fitness fun, and having a balanced way of eating has proven to be the best medicine. I may not be skinny but I am healthier than I have ever been.

PS I did the happy dance in the driveway when we got home… lol.

PPS I’m going to tackle Run for the Toad again. It’s redemption time!

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I have never been so happy to have put a year in the rear-view mirror as I have been with 2014. What a year! It started out with broken toes that weren’t quite healed and the roller coaster continued from there with the heart issues, bronchitis verging on pneumonia, and this last few weeks… the bloody flu. On top of that I was still grieving the loss of my Mom and there was quite a bit of anxiety that came to light after the heart procedure. Despite all of this, it was a good year with many firsts including my daughter’s first time at school and joining a gym.

As I have mentioned in years past, I don’t believe in doing the whole New Year’s resolution bit. I came to this conclusion several years ago. I feel that it sets me up for failure and when something I had resolved to do wasn’t realized I would beat myself up emotionally. Instead I like to look at the year as a book consisting of 365 blank pages for me to fill with the things that keep me healthy, happy, and fulfilled.  I prefer to choose milestones and make general plans with no set timelines punctuated with events such as running and camping trips. This year is no different and here are some of the things I’d like to accomplish throughout the year.

I’m committed to  spending less time online, plugged in and on the phone especially with social media. Those of you who follow me here and on twitter may have noticed that I’ve been pretty quiet since October and lately I’ve been less active on Facebook as well. Yes, I am ignoring you.  Instead of being consumed with social media, I’m spending more time with my children, husband and friends. I have been teaching my four year old little girl how to knit, sew, and cook. Next up… snowshoeing (if we ever get any snow). I will continue to walk back and forth to the school twice a day with the children. I could simply let my son walk his little sister as he is very responsible, but I choose to add the 15K to my fitness every week. I’m fortunate that being a writer allows that freedom and it is a great time to chat with my teenage boy. In the Fall he is off to high school and walking with Mom would just be uncool.

I mentioned in earlier posts that I am rebuilding my running base. I’m still working on that although I’ve been slightly sidelined by the flu. While progress has been slow, I’m still moving forward. My goal race is the Toronto Yonge Street 10K on April 19th. I’m very excited and I’m hoping to make it a personal record for 10K. Of course, I’ll be training smart and coupling that with workouts at the gym. The goal is to run another half marathon too. I’m not sure which one yet but I’m leaning towards the Niagara Falls Women’s Half Marathon in June or the Toronto Waterfront Marathon in the Fall… or both. I would like to do another trail race too. That reminds me, I need to do some running shoe shopping.

I hope to cross a few things off my list this year such as the climbing lesson and belay certification that was put on the back burner when I first broke my toes. It didn’t end up being in the cards for 2014 but perhaps I’ll tackle it in 2015. And… I still want to try zip lining. Did I mention I am terrified of gravity? Boxing is still on my milestone list, as are many other things. What I tackle will depend on time. Our family plans to return to Le P’tit Train du Nord for a cycling and camping trip. Unfortunately between what was going on with me and Bryan’s travel with work, we didn’t make it back to the trail in 2014 but I’d love to revisit the area this year… without the rain.

Over the holidays I had the chance to spend some time with one of my dearest friends, Sandi. It’s hard to believe we’ve been friends for over 25 years (where did the time go?) and the last few years we haven’t been able to see each other as much as we would have liked. The weekend before Christmas we talked about making a point of seeing each other more often. Our boys (and husbands) get along famously plus we have similar interests which is great. We both love cycling so there will likely be some bike rides together in the Spring and Summer. Who knows, maybe I can even talk her into running a race with me or maybe not… lol.

While I still want to lose a bit more weight, I haven’t set an actual number because I’m more about the complete picture… body, mind, and spirit. I haven’t let the scale define me in years and will continue with that mindset. I’m more focused on being active, hydrating properly, and eating healthy. Speaking of food… my goals with nutrition remain the same as in previous years— I will continue to eat foods that are kind to my body in order to keep the side effects of diabetes and heart issues at bay. I appreciate being able to use nutrition and fitness in place of diabetes medications. I don’t diet, I simply eat according to my goals and to ensure I have balanced intake of nutrients. This is important for our whole family. Children, as you know, learn by example.

Eating fresh and local whenever possible is something I strive to continue although it’s nearly impossible at this time of year. In 2014 I started relying on our local farmers’ market and farm stands for produce. I would venture out on Friday and our menu for the week would revolve around what I came home with that afternoon. I plan to continue that throughout 2015 as I found the quality was often better than the grocery store and the produce seemed to last longer before spoiling. It’s a great for the children to learn more about where our food comes from and I like to support our local farms. I’m going to get back into growing sprouts and making my own yogurt. Both are really easy to do and will be good skills to pass onto the children. I have even done both on wilderness camping trips. I also love that this way of eating means avoiding some of the unnecessary things that are added to our food. Sure, it takes a bit more effort but that is nominal in comparison to the benefits.

Hobbies have come to the forefront lately. I’ve been teaching myself to knit plus I’ve started to do needlework and sketching again. I find that activities like this help me reduce stress and give me a way to unwind. Hobbies are much like running or the gym in that regard—being immersed in the task at hand takes the focus off whatever stress there is.

Work-wise, I completed my last client website and redefined my business. I’m still in the process of finishing my third cookbook manuscript. It’s due in March but I’m in good shape with it other than needing to take some more photos. My fourth cookbook proposal is on the table too. I’ll tell you more about that once I sign a publishing contract. I can tell you that it is going to be an amazing project and I am very excited about it. I’m also working on telling the story of my personal journey and, although I feel somewhat vulnerable, look forward to sharing that with my readers. Once again, I’ll be writing some freelance articles for a variety of publications. The outdoorsy project for families and kids that was to launch in 2014 should come to fruition later in the year.

2015 is all about forward momentum. It will be interesting to see how this year unfolds and what adventures my family and I get up to. I’ll keep you posted.

Happy New Year!

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Seven months ago today I had been transported, by ambulance, from Hamilton to Brantford after undergoing the Percutaneous Coronary Intervention (formerly known as angioplasty). Later that afternoon I was released and I began the process of recovery.

Physically I recovered very quickly but emotionally the journey has been a little more difficult. It has been hard to try and wrap my head around the fact that I am okay. It freaks me out to know I have something foreign in my body. I underwent all sorts of post-procedure testing and that indicated that there could be a mild and reversible issue or that my ample bosom was interfering with the scans. In other words, I’m fine. As you know, I had been cleared to train for a marathon so that in itself was pretty positive. Yet, here I was struggling with runs and breathing. Five minutes into things I would start having troubles and my mind would automatically go to thoughts of it being my heart again. It seemed to be getting worse… until…

Starbucks with Carla.

Back at the beginning of October, Carla and I decided to catch up with one another over coffee at her favorite coffee shop. The next thing I knew my dear friend had convinced me to go for an orientation at The Athletic Club (TAC) here in Brantford. I can’t remember how we actually got on the topic but next thing I knew we were touring the brightly lit facility. She didn’t pressure me but she did share her passion for working out there. I could see why. TAC is open, bright, and not the least bit intimidating. It wasn’t at all what I had anticipated. So, on October 4th I committed to becoming a member for a year. Quite honestly, I have toyed with the idea on numerous occasions but Carla gave me the gentle push I needed.

With membership at TAC you receive a fitness assessment as well as a personal training demo. I went in to see Kelly Harker and we spent well over an hour discussing my history, current health, lifestyle, and goals. Kelly did all sorts of fitness tests and gave me a copy of the results. I have some work to do. Body fat is still a concern, but I knew that going in. I still can’t do a push-up to save my life. Well, okay… I managed one and even that was modified. Apparently I have average strength biceps… that one shocked me. I would have expected a poor rating there. My flexibility is shot… I used to be able to sit and reach well beyond the tips of my toes (lol – I’ll just blame that on being a runner).

I had gone in with extremely low expectations surrounding cardio-fitness because, when it comes to my health, I’m a realist. I had been off with broken toes, heart issues, and bronchitis that verged on pneumonia—it was one hell of a year. With the time away from training I had expected my cardiovascular ability to be close to rock bottom. After all, every time I would run I would feel like I was immensely out of shape in that regard.

face your fears

face your fears

I braced myself for the news that my suspicions were correct, however, my VO2Max was much better than I thought. I had expected to be in around the 21 V02Max range which is quite low. The actual assessment was much higher at 33.2 which is considered good. What!? At first, I thought maybe she had made a mistake. It was at that moment I realized the breathing issues I have been having when I run are not physical… I was dealing with anxiety. Knowing that has been a gift that has allowed me to move beyond fears that my heart issue wasn’t fixed. That one simple act of going to Starbucks with Carla that day started me on a course of action that would lift a great weight from my shoulders.

While I have your attention, I should update you on The Fall Challenge that I decided to do in order to support my friend Kim.

Here is where I am at…

Nutrition

I have done well with all the goals I set out for myself except I still need to focus more on breaking the habit of having lunch in front of the computer. I could still do with incorporating more dark leafy vegetables too.

Fitness

I’m walking, running, and working out at the gym where I am concentrating on the areas that need some attention. I met with Jenn Jones, a Personal Trainer at TAC. Jenn gave me some pointers on how to achieve my goals which are to increase strength especially in the core, reduce body fat percentage, bring up my V02Max even more, increase flexibility and lose a little more body weight in a healthy way that I can maintain over the long term.

I am somewhat lacking in discipline when it comes to doing the daily yoga flows and will continue to work on that during the last bit of this challenge. Soon enough it will be second nature.

Posture

I’m continuing to work on correcting decades of poor posture. It’s tough but I am determined to stand tall. The gym has mirrors and that certainly helps me check my form when I am lifting and such.

Other

I’m sleeping better. There are a few exceptions to this, like when my little girl has been coughing in the night. Cutting down on the caffeine and exercising more has been quite helpful in this regard.

So there you have it. I’m back to my run-bunctious self.

I feel good great for the first time in over a year. I’m starting to sign up for running events that will take place in 2015 and my enthusiasm for fitness has returned.

And… I couldn’t have done this without the people who have encouraged me, believed in me, and lifted my spirit.

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It is now day 11 of my Fall Challenge and I’ve managed to make some positive changes in working towards my goals. I am blessed to have a wonderful circle of support which is contributing to my success in making lifestyle adaptations.

Nutrition

Reducing my caffeine intake has been tough. I’m happy to say that I am down to two cups a day and even one on some days. I’ve been having a glass of water or some lemon verbena tea when the craving hits. Ideally I’d like to get the coffee down to one cup per day or less. Speaking of drinks, I’ve been making a conscious effort to hydrate properly.

I’ve been snacking on more vegetables especially the raw ones. Apples are in season so that has been my go-to sweet snack. Sometimes I have the fruit with a bit of cinnamon, a few pepitas, and some walnuts. Next week I’ll be introducing more legumes and soups back into our menu… maybe even together.

I’ve been better about checking my blood glucose every day but there is still room for improvement.

Fitness

I’ve been walking every day and I started to train for running events again. I managed 28K the first week and I’m at 23K for this week already. I start a training week on Monday. One of my goals was to start running a minimum of three times a week again. That will happen this week and soon I will start increasing my distances with the eventual goal being a Spring half marathon. I still need to incorporate more core work and a daily yoga practice.

Posture

I’m working on this one. I have to constantly remind myself to straighten up especially at the computer. Strengthening my core should help.

Other

I’ve been taking time to read and work on some hobbies. One of my loves is photography so I’ve been taking more photos especially on the way home from walking my children to school.

Lately I’ve been making a point to stay after school to watch my son’s cross country running and soccer practices. In the process I’ve reconnected with an old friend whose daughter and son are on the same team as my boy.

Sleep has been much improved likely because of the reduction in my coffee consumption. I actually put a time limit on the router so that I wouldn’t be tempted to work late into the night. That’s one of the downfalls of self-employment.

My desk is a constant clutter battle but I’ve managed to keep it clear for the most part. That said, I have to give it a good sorting out on Friday mornings. My family likes to pile things on it.

I’ve hidden the scale because, frankly, I get a little obsessed with it and this challenge is about mind, body, and spirit… not the number on the scale.

All in all things have been progressing well. I’ll post again in another week or two and fill you in on what other changes I’ve been working on and how my training is coming along. I’m certainly am happy to be back to running.

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