Archives for posts with tag: heart attack

People, I’m going to get nerdy. I’m going to talk about a subject that strikes doom into many people’s heart. I am not joking even though I am using strong language.

I am going to talk about risk factors and what they mean from a research perspective.

When the media talks about “what causes/prevents cancer” or “what causes/prevents heart attack” or any other bad disease, they are usually referring to risk and protective factors. Example number 1. We know that smoking “causes” lung cancer. What that really means is that smoking is risk factor for lung cancer. We all know people who smoked throughout their lives and never got lung cancer. And some of us know people who got lung cancer who were never smokers.

So from a research perspective, smoking does not cause cancer. Smoking is a causal factor for lung cancer. It increases the risk of developing lung cancer by quite a bit.

“Elizabeth, that means that I can smoke, not feel guilty about it, and because George Burns smoked cigars all those years and lived to 100 years-old, I won’t get lung cancer?”

No, it means none of that. George Burns beat the odds. I mean literally just that. One, he lived much longer than average. Two, he lived much longer than average given that he was a smoker. No one reasonable ever said that there is a 100% chance of getting lung cancer if you smoke or that there is a 0% chance of getting cancer if you never use tobacco products in any way.

Okay, I promised to get nerdy but I am taking it back. Let me put this plainly. You can engage in activities or behaviors that are risk factors and end up with none of the risky outcomes. Risk is relative, not absolute. You can engage in activities or behaviors that are protective factors, you can be a teetotaler, never smoke, exercise regularly, eat well, be nice to your mother, and still end up with scary diseases. Those behaviors only reduce risk they do not eliminate any risk of disease.

And come to think of it, no matter what we do, some day, we will end up dying.

Does that mean that what you do today, tomorrow, or the next day doesn’t matter?

Thanks for understanding my need to be a a psychologist nerd. Yes, we are all about the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors but as Ph.D.’s, we are additionally, all about the research. Also, guilt is when you regret doing something that is in conflict with your beliefs and values. Sometimes I wonder when we talk about feeling “responsible” for our diseases that we are really talking about shame rather than guilt. Guilt actually can be productive and helpful. I didn’t believe that for most of my life until I understood the difference between guilt and shame. Guilt refers to behaviors that we can chose to change. Shame is the feeling, “I am bad.” That’s a lot different than guilt, “Wow, I wish I hadn’t done that.” Sometimes I do things that are at odds with my beliefs and values. I don’t think that I am alone in this. I try to treat myself with compassion. I am not always successful. I try to be compassionate and patient with myself for not living a perfect life. I am not always successful.

My proposal to myself and with all kindness, to you is, “How do you want to live your life today?”

Much love and peace to all of you,

Elizabeth

I have spent the last two days at the famous Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. To make a long story short, they live up to the hype. They are consistently ranked #1 in hospitals/outpatient clinics. If you live nearby or as in my case, a ways away, and have need of their services, do not hesitate. Don’t let the cold winters scare you off, either.  The entire town has a network of underground walkways that will take you from one building to another. It’s kind of amazing.

I’ve been staying in a hotel that is across the street from the Gonda Building, Mayo’s Cardiology Building. The hotels are incorporated with the clinic buildings, which span several city blocks in all directions. In other words, I have been surrounded by sick people. Even in the clinic buildings, it can be hard to tell who is sick. Frankly, I expected to see a lot more wheel chairs, more people with walkers, and more people on oxygen. I saw these things, but really, not very frequently.

A concept in the game of Poker is “the tell”. A “tell” is a facial expression, mannerism, etc., that provides information to other players. I saw a lot of people at the Mayo Clinic who did not look sick. There was, however, a “tell”. The tell was the gauze wrapped around the crook of the arm. That gauze was put there after blood draws as well as after the removal of an I.V. port.

I was frequently surprised by the wearer of the gauze. They didn’t look “sick”. I don’t look sick, either, nor do I act sick. I learned at this visit that my heart attacks were caused by Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection (SCAD), a condition that causes coronary arteries to twist. They aren’t supposed to look like old style phone cords. Twisted arteries can dissect, which means that they can tear. Then blood can escape from the inner layer of the artery into one of the surrounding layers. Blood can pool and cause blockage. That can cause a heart attack even in someone like me, who has never smoked and has normal blood pressure, glucose, cholesterol, etc. To most, even cardiologists, I look healthy, well except for the HEART ATTACKS! Mayo Clinic has been doing research on SCAD since 2010, now. Prior to that time, they saw 10 cases a YEAR. Now they see 10 a month. This means that I was able to see a cardiologist who has reviewed records for hundreds of SCAD patients. She knew what the “tells” are for this particular condition.

There is so much we don’t know about each other as a casual observer or even as an astute observer, who just has no frame of reference.

This seems like a life lesson to me.

Peace friends,

Elizabeth

 The Mayo Building

 

The Gonda Building  It is connected to the Mayo Building. Cardiology is in the Gonda Building. This was a familiar scene from my visit.

Hey, these are Chihuly! A little art from home.

L

This is the line-up for blood draws at the Conrad Hilton Building. It was like the DMV except faster and friendlier, even accounting for the needle stick.

Dan Abraham Healthy Living Center. The Healthy Living Program resides here and is open to everyone. There are programs for employees, patients, and drop-in services. They have a full service spa, which I very much enjoyed. I was lucking that the only openings they had for the week, fit into my schedule.

Following a devastating tornado, Dr. William Mayo was approached by Mother Alfred Moses, founder of the Sisters of St. Francis, with a proposal to build and staff a hospital. This was 1883.

I told you that the blood draw area was like the DMV.

 

The piano is located in the atrium of the Gonda Building. It was donated for anyone to use for up to 30 minutes with guidelines to play “something soothing”. The woman in the first photo was singing opera. She was approached by two Mayo physicians. If my eaves-dropping skills are intact, they were happy to see her because she is a physician they trained in the past. The woman in the second photo was singing Billy Joel and I later saw her performing at the Rochester street fair.


This charming historical building appears to be the original Mayo Medical School. It is now a student center.

Five years ago today I was told, “You have cancer.” I had been looking forward to the possibility of this 5 year mark, holding at “no evidence of disease.” I had a mammogram recently that was normal. So, I am at “no evidence of disease”.  Unsurprisingly, having had two heart attacks in the past four weeks has dampened the party a little bit.

Nonetheless, I am going to give my 5-years as a survivor its well-earned appreciation. There were a lot of highs and lows packed into the last five years. I’ve written about nearly every one of them in this blog, which I started immediately after my diagnosis. My blog turns five years-old today, too.

When I chose the title for my blog, “My Eyes are Up Here”, in part, I was just trying to be clever. But I was also communicating the fullness of my life. When I got breast cancer, the rest of my life didn’t just stop. At times this was a great burden. At other times, it was the best thing about my life.

I have learned in these five years that I am not completely defined by my cancer. I am also not completely defined by my heart problems.

My eyes are still up here.

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George Lakoff

George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society (cnms.berkeley.edu).

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