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Posts Tagged ‘gratitude’

You might be wondering why I chose “leaving the comfort zone” as the title for this entry. It seems fitting given what has transpired in the past seven weeks and I believe pushing my limits is what saved my life.

In my last post I had shared the wonderful news that the doctors felt I should be able to run again. I was still fearful that the Cardiolite Exercise Test results were going to reveal something entirely different that would mark the end of certain fitness activities for me despite how confident the doctors were about my continuing to run and cycle. I couldn’t get it out of my mind that I had a heart attack, although a very mild one. September 8th finally arrived and it wasn’t soon enough for me. After seeing the kids off to school I headed to a meeting with my cardiologist so we could go over the results. It was the longest drive. Every second went by like a minute and every minute seemed like an hour. When we got there I waited with nervous anticipation. Finally, Dr. J. came into the room with a gentle but huge smile on his face.

So here’s the scoop…
There is a new lateral defect and the existing mild defect found after the procedure in 2014 has become slightly more intense. The new defect is very mild and reversible so it’s likely from what happened in early August. The surgeon wasn’t able to deal with all of the blockage because of the location in my heart where the minor artery, the one originally stented, connects with my left circumflex artery. The scar tissue extended into the left circumflex. The surgeon had to choose between the two arteries so it means that I may experience some discomfort. That’s the bad-ish news.

And the good news… first and foremost there is no progression of the heart disease. This was merely a very atypical restenosis of the stent caused by my body creating scar tissue and because of the position of the scarring, as I mentioned above, it affected two arteries making it difficult to deal with in the angioplasty. The restenosis is unusual because this usually happens in the first three months or so and not 14 months later. What can I say? I’m medically weird.

It gets more interesting. When I wrote my last blog entry, I mentioned that my body had caused an additional artery to surface so that it could provide more blood flow to the heart. This collateral artery is basically creating a natural form of bypass. What causes this? Getting out of my comfort zone when running, cycling and hiking. Pushing my limits compels the heart to increase demand and then the collaterals start to do their thing. It is fascinating because most of us have capillaries waiting to turn into collaterals but it won’t happen without endurance types of exercise. If you’d like to learn more about this please read the full article Natural Bypasses Can Save Lives by Steffen Gloekler, MD; Christian Seiler, MD that was published in Circulation from the American Heart Association.

From what I understand it takes three to six months for these vessels (collaterals) to come to full-fruition. While they are tinier than regular arteries, it is possible for dozens to form and increase health to the heart. You have to exercise at a certain level for this to happen. My cardiologist explained if further. “Let’s say you are driving to your city and there is only one highway because no one bothered to build side roads. If there is a traffic jam you just sit there and wait. You will be at a standstill until the roadblock is cleared because there is no other route. Now, if someone had built side roads you could simply get off the main thoroughfare and continue on your way. The arteries in your heart are like that. If you are sedentary and sit on your butt you will never build up these collaterals and when there is a blockage. Whammo! Too late!”

The prognosis… Dr. J. wants me to run, cycle, and go to the gym. Even if I get some discomfort or angina, I’m to work through it, within reason of course. There is definitely a fine line and I’m not to push so hard I have a heart attack. It will require being attune to what’s going on in my body. The physical demands should cause more of these collaterals to surface thus improving my heart even further and continuing to help me battle being a diabetic with heart disease. As the collaterals increase any angina will start to disappear. I asked about the gym and lifting and I asked about hill training. He said as long as I listened to my body, that I could do whatever I felt up to doing. The only thing he suggested was that I wait until the New Year to run any races. So with a copy of the test results in hand, I left his office feeling a wave of overwhelming relief.

If you have been putting off exercise, please take my story to heart and stop procrastinating. Get out there! Find a fitness activity that you enjoy, are medically cleared to do, and be kind to yourself. Leave your comfort zone!

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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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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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finally

finally

Yesterday was Mother’s Day. I am so proud to be a Mom and my children are the centre of my universe. My darling Tobias is now a teenager but he still has the big heart of the sweet little guy I used to cuddle in my arms. For Mother’s Day, aside from the gift he bought me with his allowance, he gave me something that I will never forget—his time.

His Dad is away right now and that coupled with the fact that his little sister Kaia won’t have anything to do with the running stroller now that she’s older, makes it difficult for me to get time to train. Tobias offered to watch her while I ran yesterday, so I took him up on it and hit the treadmill.

Before I tell you how that went, let me back up a bit. You may have read that I broke my toes in November and then had a heart procedure about 6 weeks ago. Nearer the end of April I was given the green light to train for a full marathon. During all this time off  I lost some of my cardiovascular fitness. I also developed some anxiety which is very common with heart patients. I would think about running and be overcome with the fear that I wouldn’t be able to breathe again. So I’d skip the run or I’d start to run, panic, and shut the treadmill off after 2 or 3K. I knew that if I was even going to consider a full marathon this Fall I would need to push through this.  Here I was with a strong, healthy heart and the blessing of my cardiologist to train; backed up by extensive testing. Yet I was gripped by a debilitating fear about my heart.

Tobias asked me how far I was planning to run. I told him 4K as that was what I had put in my training plan. I started to run and I decided that I wouldn’t allow myself to give up until I had reached the distance I promised him I would do. At 2.5K I started second guessing myself again. I changed my music and kept going. Then I hit the 3K mark followed by 4K. The fear hadn’t been there like the last few attempts and I was actually feeling great even though I was finding it tough. I said to myself… “Self, why don’t you just do the 5K? You know it would make you happy.” Yes, I talk to myself when I run—it’s a runner thing.

My son came out to see how I was doing and I asked if he minded watching Kaia a few minutes longer because I wanted to try for 5K. He agreed with a “Go Mom Go!” and then Kaia came out and joined in the cheer.  So, with the best cheering squad a Mom could ever hope for, I continued to run. The kids headed back to Tobias’ room to play with Lego.

When I saw 5K on the display I started to cry. I paused the treadmill, called out to Tobias and he came running out to see what was wrong. Between the sobs I explained that these were tears of joy and that I was more than okay. I was hot and sweaty and I felt really good. Accomplished. Three months ago I thought I would never be able to run again. To run past the fear meant the world to me. It showed me that I can do this and that I am still a runner.

This was a major breakthrough and one I desperately needed for my mind, body, and spirit. Tobias’ providing me with an opportunity to run without distraction turned out to be one of the most wonderful Mother’s Day gifts he’s ever given me. I can’t thank him enough. In being so giving he helped me to find my inner possible again—that part inside of me that makes even the most difficult challenges seem possible.

 

 

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A mere month ago I underwent a percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty also referred to as a percutaneous coronary intervention.  Before I could return to running I had to get the all-clear from my cardiologist which included having some tests.  I had one left to complete and after having to cancel and reschedule this cardiology appointment a few times, I finally underwent the myocardial perfusion on Friday morning.

What is myocardial perfusion? Well, it is a test to check blood flow in and out of the heart. They use a nuclear isotope called Cardiolite as a tracer which is injected through an IV in the arm and a gamma camera takes photos. To make a long story short, I had two of these photography sessions. One was prior to exercising and the other after running at a good incline on a treadmill. I believe I was at 18% incline when I asked to have the test stopped. Don’t be alarmed, it wasn’t my heart but my lungs. I’m recovering from what feels like bronchitis. I was almost 11 minutes in when the coughing reared its’ ugly head. The whole process took about 4 hours or so.

At the end of the day I decided to call for results. What can I say? I’m not a very patient person when it comes to this. The cardiologist, Dr. J., had the images but didn’t have time to look at them. I really didn’t expect that he would and the kind lady told me to call back Monday morning. I was naughty and I went for a little 1K run on Saturday before getting the all-clear from Dr. J. I knew from past experience that everything was okay and I took it easy because this cough still lingers. I made sure that someone was close by. I threw myself into other things so that I would stop thinking of the “what ifs”. In the back of my mind I kept thinking that the coughing somehow affected the treadmill portion of the test.

Monday came and I called. A different lady answered my call and said it would be 7 to 14 business days!!

What?!?!? My heart sank.

Dr. J. had promised that he’d have an answer for me within a day or two of the test and that I’d be running before the end of the month. She said she would send him an email. I politely thanked her and then waited until late in the day to call back.

When I called back this time I was talking with the lady I usually do. She opened my file and said that there was a note on it giving me the go ahead to train for the first full marathon but to really listen to my body. He also left a note that he doesn’t want to see me again until October. The test was a success despite my hacking session!

I can run again!

The first word that comes to mind is gratitude.

I am grateful for my children and my husband. Their unconditional love means the world to me.

I am grateful to be here for my children and that they can have a Mom who is active and vibrant.

I am grateful that I can run again and that my choices over the past decade have made that a reality.

I am grateful for all the people in my life and that I made a courageous choice to only surround myself with people who lift my spirit. The support I received through all of this shows that I have made the right decisions there. The visits, phone calls, emails, and messages kept me moving forward even on the days when I couldn’t see that a positive outcome was possible.

Now I guess it is time to look at training plans. My first full marathon is a mere 25 weeks away and I have a tough summer of training ahead of me. Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon… here I come!!

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I’ve been under the weather with a nasty cold-flu-like bug for a week so this is a bit late in coming.  Here is what has been going on with my heart…

My Healthy Heart

Friday April 11th finally arrived. A mere two weeks after my heart procedure I sat in the office of the cardiology lab anxiously awaiting a consult with my cardiologist. While I had tests and had been in the hospital, Dr. J. and I actually hadn’t seen each other since August. There was a lump in my throat and I was feeling very stressed about the whole thing, yet I desperately wanted answers. I reminded myself that I could handle any news, good or bad, and took a deep breath.

The nurse came out and escorted me to the back so that she could check my vitals, weight, abdominal measurement, and run an EKG. Shortly after, I went to the consult room and Dr. J. joined me. He asked me how I felt about my family genetics catching up with me. I half-joked and said, “I wish I could punch my family genetics in the nose!”

A tear rolled down my cheek and I braced myself for the worst.  Dr. J. looked at me and said. “Your heart is strong and healthy. The two overlapping stents you’ve got are not going to be an issue. Given the condition of your heart from the running and cycling you could have ten stents and it would still be better than a single stent in a damaged heart. The valve issues are mild at this point and nothing should deter you from being active. In fact, I’d would like to have you back to running by the end of the month but first I’d like to do a myocardial perfusion so we know where you are at with blood flow. Oh and you can take that nitroglycerin patch off. You don’t need it.” He also decided against sending me for Cardiac Rehab because I had already walked more than 42K since being released from the hospital.

The word “shock” just doesn’t encompass the surprise I felt when I heard him say that I would be running again in mere weeks. I looked at him, somewhat puzzled, and said “I should probably rethink running the marathon in the Fall. Right?” His reply was, “if you want to run a marathon there is no reason that you can’t fulfill that dream. Which race?” So I told him about the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon and about my recent social media role with Canada Running Series for the Toronto Yonge Street 10K.

Speaking of which…

The Un-Race Report

a little warm-up run

a little warm-up run

Fast forward to Sunday April 13th. I don’t think I have ever been as excited about a race I wasn’t able to run. I made so many great running connections during my time as Digital Champion and I had decided that no matter what Friday’s outcome was with my heart, I was going to be there Sunday to cheer everyone on. My fellow Digital Champions had been an amazing support during all the health issues and I wanted to show them that I appreciated that.

We awoke uber-early on Sunday morning. Our friend Carla met us at the house, with coffee in hand, we strapped Kaia into her car seat and off we went. The horrible forecast had changed for the better and it looked like it would be a dry but windy race. The drive was pretty uneventful and parking was plentiful near the start line because we were a bit early.

A few days before I had exchanged messages with Krista Duchene and we were able to meet briefly before the race. I also met Robbie Watson. They were doing an East-West challenge so I wished them both a great race. It was great to meet both of them.  One day I will have to share a funny story about my first encounter with Krista about a year and a half ago. Meanwhile, Kaia and Bryan were running around near the start. This was going to be her last race in the stroller and she was raring to go. I’ve never seen a little girl so charged up about running as Kaia is and it isn’t every day I can let my child play in the middle of Yonge Street.

The Justice League

The Justice League

I waited at the start line and took photos of runners leaving the gate. I was using my Android and there was a glare on the screen so some of the shots were rather accidental. I did get a shot of The Justice League taking off which was great. I screamed loud encouragements to other friends as they started. I won’t sugar coat it, this was very hard for me. When I heard the gun go off and the announcer building up the excitement, I had to hold back a few tears. It was emotional for me on many levels but knowing that running is still possible for me, kept it from being anything more than damp lashes.

Then, after the last competitor was out of the gate, my friend Sheryl and I headed to the finish line. That didn’t exactly go as planned and her husband Ric had already finished by the time we got there. Oops. In hindsight we should have headed to the finish much earlier. We found a good spot and waited for Bryan, Carla, and Kaia. Sheryl and Ric drove Bryan back to our Jeep while Carla, Kaia, and I hung out at the awards ceremony. I met up with Andrew Chak, Jodi Lewchuck, and Mahnaz. Hugs all around. Then later I met Batman aka JP Hernandez and Spiderman aka Mark Sawh. Oh… and I met Alan Brookes as well. Can’t forget Alan! Everyone had hugs and it felt really great being there. I forgot how much I missed that beloved sense of community among runners.

It was a great day for a race. Rest assured that I WILL be crossing the Toronto Yonge Street 10K finish line next year. Maybe even as a Digital Champion! What do you think Mr. Brookes?

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This morning Daniel, an awesome photographer and avid Bruce Trail hiker, posted about gratitude on Facebook. It inspired me to write a little about what I am grateful for today and share that with you.

Since November 2012 I’ve been getting rid of a lot of the negative influences in my life and that has made room for some very positive aspects to move to the forefront. I often reflect on all the wonderful things in my life and I try to pull the lessons out of the not-so-great things that have happened. Doing so keeps me grounded and my outlook focused where it needs to be.

I am grateful for…

  • Bryan
  • my darling children — Tobias & Kaia
  • love
  • true friends
  • our dog Thomson
  • coffee
  • camping trips
  • naps
  • my bike — I love our family bike rides
  • Tobias being a great big brother to Kaia
  • air conditioning
  • my friend Laurie dropping in to say hello
  • story time with my baby girl
  • my camera
  • wildflowers
  • our local trail network
  • hugs from Stephanie
  • my running playlist
  • the full fly on our tent
  • simple pleasures
  • running in the woods
  • listening to my kids play, sing & be silly
  • sunscreen
  • swings — they bring out my inner child
  • freezies — brought over by my sweet neighbour when she spots us coming back from a bike ride

So, what are you grateful for today?

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