We’ve all heard the directive on a plane: “in case of a loss of cabin pressure, put the oxygen mask on yourself first.” The reasoning is, of course, that if you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be any good to anyone else. Two incidents occurred in my own life that brought this message home in a big way. What follows is not directly related to speech/language therapy, but it does speak to speech/language therapists, who are among the most selfless, caring people I know, people who routinely put the needs of family, students, clients, and colleagues ahead of their own.
Since February is Heart Month and February 5 is “Go Red for Women Day” to promote heart attack and stroke awareness and prevention, let’s start there. Seven years ago, I had a heart attack. To say this was a shock to everyone, including the doctors and nurses who took care of me, is an understatement. I am very petite ( under 5 ft. tall and 100 lbs. soaking wet), have low blood pressure, excellent cholesterol numbers, no history of any heart problems, am scrupulous about healthy eating, and was not of the age where you’d expect heart problems to crop up. In other words, I was about the last person you’d think this would happen to. Well, long story short, testing revealed that I have an anomaly in one of the major arteries of the heart. It kinked, and a heart attack was the result. No heart disease, no risk factors, just a hidden bit of off-kilter anatomy that decided to make itself known. An incredible stroke of luck (or are there no coincidences?), I had just watched Dr. Oz on Oprah two days before, describing the symptoms of a woman’s heart attack. Had I not seen that show, I wouldn’t have recognized what was happening and would not have gotten to the ER as quickly as I did. Even with the new knowledge from the show and the gut feeling that something very serious was going on, I was still very conflicted on the way to the hospital and early in the ER: Was I wrong? Was I overreacting to something as simple as indigestion? Was I wasting everyone’s time, when they really should be attending to someone who was really sick? It was only when I was rushed from the ER to the cardiac care unit that the reality sunk in. The feeling that my body — my heart! — could betray me like this shook me to the core and, while I recovered physically in a short amount of time, it took significantly longer for me to recover emotionally. I share this story with you because EVERY woman should know the symptoms of a heart attack and stroke and should take active steps to prevent both. In my case, there was no prevention, but awareness of the symptoms certainly saved my life. You can learn more about women’s heart and stroke prevention here: https://www.goredforwomen.org/. Take care….
And now the second incident. Those who follow my newsletter know that I was diagnosed with breast cancer in September, had a lumpectomy in October, and radiation treatments every day in November. I feel so blessed to have come through this so well, and know that the only reason my outcome is so positive is that I religiously get my annual mammograms as soon as the reminder postcard comes in the mail. It was on an annual mammogram that it was detected: stage 0 (very early, hadn’t spread) but grade 3 (fast growing and aggressive). As my surgeon said, had I neglected to have the screening when I did or if my annual date had been months later, the outcome could have been very different. Fortunately, that very early detection meant that I escaped without chemo therapy and/or more radical surgery, for which I am SOOO grateful. When I shared this news in my October newsletter,(coincidentally, Breast Cancer Awareness Month), I was overwhelmed and so very deeply touched by the outpouring of support and encouragement from SLPs who visit Speaking of Speech.com regularly. I was also moved to tears to learn how many of those SLPs have also faced this diagnosis. Good heavens, we could form our own ASHA SIG! I was frankly horrified when the American Cancer Society recently relaxed its guidelines regarding the age a woman should begin getting mammograms and how often they are needed. My friends, please make this individual and very personal decision with your doctor. Know your risk factors and the symptoms, keep up with your self-examinations and GYN appointments, and don’t hesitate for a moment to speak up if you sense something is suspicious or flat-out wrong. Nobody knows your body better than you! Take care….
You may be thinking now that I’m a medical mess, but that is far from the truth! I’m very actively involved with home and family, participate in many community organizations and events, work very hard on my job and my web site, and work equally hard to maintain a healthy balance of time for my hobbies and my friends. Indeed, I’m the picture of health! The one thing I wasn’t doing routinely was exercising. ugh. Yes, I’ve done Curves and Jazzercise and yoga and Pilates. Yes, I joined a gym for 2 years (and hated every minute of it). Yes, I like to walk, but only in nice weather and only when I don’t have anything else to do….and I can ALWAYS find something else to do! I just don’t find any pleasure in exercising and prefer to delude myself that I get plenty of exercise on the job, running around to get students and lugging my laptop and school bags to and from the parking lot. (My Fitbit proved that assumption wrong). While exercising probably wouldn’t have prevented the heart attack or breast cancer, I’ve come to the decision that I do need to take care of myself by adding an exercise regimen to my weekly routine. After all, I’m not getting any younger, and if these medical crises keep cropping up, I’d better be in great shape to fight back. I was helped to this decision by a wonderful fitness and holistic health program offered to patients at my local hospital. At my 1-month post-radiation checkup at the end of December, the doctor said, “Congratulations! You’ve made it through your treatments. Now you qualify for this free program to get you back to full strength and keep you feeling well.” The program consists of 10 weekly classes on fitness, nutrition, and mind-body wellness, 30+ workouts in the the gym that includes 4 sessions with a personal trainer, and 2 massages. Since the timing of this program coincided with New Year’s Resolution time, I made the snap decision to sign up on the spot (knowing full well that if I thought about it too long, I could come up with a dozen reasons why I couldn’t possibly do it — too busy with other things, too cold out, too tired after work).
I’m now starting Week 4 and, much to my surprise, I’m actually able to handle the schedule and am feeling better and stronger. Do I love it? No, but I’m committed to seeing it through for the full 10 weeks. By then, it will be spring when my exercise will be gardening, walking, and – yes, I do hope – continuing with regular trips to the gym. Making this commitment, putting myself first for these 10 weeks, has been better than I expected. Family and friends haven’t suffered, work hasn’t suffered, community involvement hasn’t suffered. It’s getting easier to run home from work, quick change, and dash to the gym 3 days a week. Taking care of one’s self feels good. Take it from me….