2012 was a year that will forever be in my mind. Trip to across the country not to see the sites of Ontario but to meet with the leading cardiac surgeon in the Canada and have open heart surgery to repair what turned out to be expansive tears in my mitral valve.
Surgery was not a surprise. I had known since my diagnosis of mitral valve regurgitation (or leaky valve) in my early 20’s that inevitably surgery would be it… but in my 60’s, not at the age of 42! I’m not going to lie, it was a shock. I hadn’t been experiencing the usual symptoms I was supposed to feel – shortness of breath, swollen feet, constantly feeling tired – or so I had thought…
I wouldn’t say I was a sickly kid, but I wasn’t interested much in sports and hated PE in school. I was always told I was a good baby and let my parents sleep until 8-9am. I played outside until being called in for dinner (fresh from my grandparents HUGE garden – but that story is for another day!)
Looking back I remember sleeping A LOT, especially in high school – I’d come home after school, sleep on the couch until my mom told me dinner was ready. I’d eat dinner, do my homework and go to bed. My stepfather called me lazy – I thought it was normal. This continued into my college/university days but then I started playing volleyball, biking, hiking and dancing …it proved very beneficial for my heart – I would pass my yearly stress tests with flying colors – my cardiologist telling me I had the heart of a teenager…so when I was stamped with “it’s time for surgery” … I couldn’t understand. I ate well, exercised, got a good night’s rest so why now?
What I understand now, is I was meant to do this early – when I was strong, “relatively healthy” and could bounce back quickly – and share what I had learned. I put “relatively healthy” in quotations as my heart condition was not my only health concern.
I suffered monthly migraines – which I learned in my later years was due to hormonal imbalances and like most of us, I had a high stress lifestyle and job that led me to further imbalances and adrenal fatigue to near burn out. My breakfast consisted of a piece of toast with jam and a cup of coffee in the car on my commute to a job I disliked. Lunches were often a quick salad or cheese on toast & sometimes leftover pasta (eaten at my desk) and dinners were often drive thu fast food. I craved sugar & burgers as I worked long hours. Sound familiar?
In the spring of 2006, I was devastated when I was “let go” from my dead end job…but was I? Looking back now it was the best thing to happen. I took my time (6 months) to find another passion and in that time I started to look after me. Cooking became my passion, reading (mostly health magazines and books) and enjoying the incredible place I call home and all things outdoor. I needed a recharge. What I didn’t realize then was my body needed this recharge to prepare myself for the fall of 2012.
Heart surgery. It sounds catastrophic. It can be catastrophic, but isn’t a death sentence. I was 42, I had support of my loving family, and I was prepared. I had spent my 6 months of “time off” to develop healthy eating habits, looked after my body with exercise & continued my yoga practice.
I hadn’t met my incredible surgeon until the day before the surgery but had done my research, he was the best (not only in surgical terms but in bedside manner), and the video of my mitral valve repair eased my mind (maybe not for everyone, but for my scientific mind – I needed to know!). Even though I will not admit I was ready – my body was. I spent a week in the hospital (normal I think), a week in a Toronto hotel and then home to recover. I will not lie, not having the energy to wash my own hair or dress myself the first couple weeks cannot be imagined until you live it. Hospital food was…well…hospital food. I have MSG, and gluten intolerances so my meals on a good day were microwaved fish with dry piece of lettuce, boiled egg in a plastic wrap and a banana! …but I was lucky, I had family support, to bring me smoothies, sushi and all the goodness (nutrition) I needed to thrive. We got a hotel with a kitchen so we could make healthy whole food meals.
I’m not sure when the ‘aha’ moment actually happened but at some point during my recovery I began researching nutrition programs and schools. I wanted to learn more, I needed to learn more. I knew that if I could help just one person going through hormonal issues (call it PMS, menopause, stress!) or an invasive surgery, change one daily habit to make them less tired, anxious or just feel better…it was worth it. While my journey sounds like it began with my heart diagnosis…my true health journey has only just begun…and I am ready to embark with you on your journey 🙂
Smiles, Laughter & Love