For the past 3 weeks or so, I've been trying to come to terms with the new information that I am at considerable risk of a congenital heart defect, that caused my biological father to have a heart attack at 36, the same age I am now. My family doctor ordered a bunch of urgent tests and prohibited me from exercising until the test results were back. I've been posting occasionally anyways, to help keep my motivated and engaged during the stressful waiting period.
So first the bad news. I saw a cardiologist on Friday, and he confirmed that I *do* have the dreaded heart defect - an aortic valve deformity (BAVD) that greatly increases my chances of all sorts of nasty life-threatening cardiac events. Given the evidence of "calcification" already present in my heart, something awful might be practically inevitable without medical intervention (read: heart surgery). Also, I am "cardiovascularly unfit" based upon my stress test - my oxygen "processing" is poor. (I can't remember the right word, but it is the one that describes how oxygen is collected, pumped through the blood and sent around to feed my cells.) More dicey news: the cardiologist nevertheless doesn't attribute my symptoms to my heart disease, so that remains undiagnosed - and without a diagnosis, how can it be treated?
I will be pursuing a second opinion. I am pretty sure the diagnosis is solid, but I am concerned about the discounting of my symptoms and want to be really sure they aren't related and indicating urgent treatment of any kind. (And if the second opinion agrees with the first, I will still keep investigating possible causes of my symptoms to treat them appropriately.)
But there is good news under all that too, actually.
#1. I'm gonna live. Now doing the happy dance - Stayin' Al-i-i-i-ve - with full disco moves. May dig up a copy of Saturday Night Fever to celebrate.
#2. My heart is actually in pretty good shape so far, and although it will need to be monitored for the rest of my life, and intervention may be necessary eventually, it is probably years down the line. The doctor confirmed that no damage was seen, blood flow is pretty good, and I am certainly not in critical danger yet. (And when I do need intervention, it can be planned ahead, so I can avoid unnecessary damage and trauma.)
#3. I am now *ordered* to exercise, and given unrestricted license to do so. (Hurray! I can run again!) In fact, it is now an even bigger priority than ever to get lots of exercise, and the cardiologist was happy to hear that I was running. (So glad to be getting back to the exercise I've been used to doing 6x/week. I've missed all the benefits of it.)
#4. Similarly, I'm encouraged to lose excess weight - a process I have been working on for some time now, with success. Originally, I lost about 75 lbs over 1.5 years, and was pretty close to my goal. Last year, I had to take a medicine that caused me to gain 40 lbs in 9 months, but now that I was able to get that replaced with something better, and the meds are stabilized, I am back on the road to a healthy body composition. I am still down a total of 45 pounds from my heaviest weight, and (re) lost 15 lbs since January after regaining that blasted 40. All to say that I feel even better than before about having turned my life around over the past 2.5 years. I am going to keep pushing to reach my goal.
#5. I am allowed to eat what I want, but that is mostly because I am already eating low-carb, low-sugar food. I've been low-moderately low carb (with tons of extra veggies) for the past 2.5 years, with a few short blips, so I am already in good shape for managing my insulin levels and avoiding diabetes (which would be really bad combined with a heart defect). Again, so glad I changed my lifestyle already.
So I started C25K again today, with W1R1. I was excited to be able to go out, actually, and pleased that I didn't lose all my motivation after a couple weeks of couch-potato-ness. In the intervening downtime, the snow melted and green started to appear, so it was pretty out, and I enjoyed the fairly nice weather. Leaves are just thinking about sprouting on the trees, and I certainly haven't missed Spring here, so I have lots of nice nature-surprises to look forward to.
But the paths were finally clear and dry (not snowy and icy!), so I could run largely unimpeded at my natural gait. I even got to go down my favorite part of my old route, a path tucked behind and between a bunch of houses with large trees arching together to form a light canopy, all private, sweet-smelling and *downhill* after my run up the biggest hill I tackle each time. So pleasant!
On top of all of this, I had a providential little moment towards the beginning of my run. During my second interval, I encountered a man plodding along on crutches, clearly out for his "constitutional". It was a bit cold and windy (especially if you don't have warmth from running) and he didn't seem to be enjoying himself much. As we passed each other, he said that he hoped to get there "someday", meaning that he wanted to run, and he rather resented the need for crutches. It just happened then that my recovery walk began, so I turned around and walked with him briefly. I told him how I used to need a cane to walk at all, only a couple years ago, and that it really could be possible for him to run eventually. (He had broken his ankle, apparently.) He seemed slightly cheered by the hope.
And as I returned to my own route, I reflected on how lucky I was to be able to run at all, after having been so feeble that I needed a cane to walk. For that matter, how lucky I am to be able to run even with a dicky heart. It was quite a coincidence to encounter yet another stranger on my runs who inspires me and makes me grateful.
It was really a pretty great run. NHS, C25K, and Laura and friends; I have so much to thank you for. I am looking forward to this whole program all over again. This time with a new challenge, and even bigger rewards - last time I wanted to prove that I never needed a cane again (at least not for another 50 years!), this time, I am going to keep my heart pumping and keep myself from keeling over, for many years yet.
As an added bonus, I feel more validated about my absolutely glacial natural running pace. I certainly would like to end up running close to 5K in 30-35 minutes, after a few months, but I no longer feel like I am just a wuss because my pace before was 5K in 50-55 minutes. I wasn't being lazy, I was working with some handicaps I didn't know about. I am sure there is a lesson buried in there about self-acceptance... I'll find it eventually!
*raises glass of water in toast*
To new re-beginnings! To health! To Life! To C25K!