Last month, I finished reading the recently published book authored by my online friend and fellow blogger, Carolyn Thomas. The book’s title is, A Woman’s Guide to Living with Heart Disease, John Hopkins University Press (2017), first edition, Baltimore, MD. 168 pages. Women’s health.
Why would I want to review a book about heart disease?
For starters, February is Heart Health Month, so there couldn’t be a better time. But the main reason I want to share about this book with you, my dear readers, is because this is an important book about an important topic that might impact YOU or someone you care about – cancer or no cancer.
The American Heart Association recently put out a statement reminding us that cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of mortality in women, not breast cancer. In addition, the negative impact of some chemotherapy and radiation regimens commonly used to treat breast cancer on heart health, has been proven to potentially increase risk for cardiac problems in some cancer patients, sometimes years after treatment ends.
You might be thinking, I’ve had breast cancer, for crying out loud. Surely I’ve reached my disease quota. Now you’re telling me I need to worry about heart disease too?
Maybe so. This is just reality.
Of course, this does not mean women should not follow a recommended chemotherapy or radiation regimen, nor does it mean you (or I) should go crazy worrying about a possible increased risk for heart disease. It does mean patients and doctors alike, must be aware of this increased potential risk.
Another reason I wanted to review this book is because I’ve been a fan of Carolyn’s blog, Heart Sisters, for years. Her blog focuses on heart disease, however, the topics she writes about often relate to the breast cancer experience as well. Disease overlap, I guess you’d call it.
So, let me tell you about this book and why it’s a must read.
A Woman’s Guide to Living with Heart Disease is a wonderful blend of accurate, valuable information about heart disease in women. The book is also part memoir with Thomas candidly weaving in aspects of her personal experience, including being misdiagnosed, as well as experiences of other women.
Why does this matter? Why a book specific to women and heart disease?
Heart disease is different in women. Women experience different symptoms. More importantly, too many women do not seek out treatment and often when they do, they are misdiagnosed. Thomas is on a mission to educate women about all things heart health related.
A Woman’s Guide to Living with Heart Disease is an important, much-needed book that sheds light on a host of topics directly impacting women’s heart health.
Some of theses vital topics are:
- recognizing early signs of a heart attack in women
- The danger in delaying seeking treatment
- The link between pregnancy complications and heart disease down the road
- Why so many women are misdiagnosed
- The importance of cardiac rehab
- What to expect during recovery from a heart attack
- How your life is forever impacted going forward
- Depression following a cardiac event (it’s common)
- How to become a more skilled and confident self-advocate
Pretty important stuff, right?
Obviously, this is a serious book about a serious topic, but if you’ve ever visited Heart Sisters, like me, you already know that Thomas writes with a compassionate, engaging tone filled with sharp wit, loads of humor and a healthy dose of cynicism thrown in as well.
Now, I’ll share a few of my favorite parts.
Thomas compares her heart attack experience to a stressful move to a foreign country:
I moved far, far away to a different country. I couldn’t speak the language, I didn’t know the culture, and I had no map to find my way back home. I found that nothing around me felt familiar or normal anymore. I was in a profound state of denial and shock. I was afraid of every odd twinge my body experienced. I also felt deeply ashamed, and shocked, because I just could not seem to pull myself together.
I love the section in chapter six called, “But You Don’t Look Sick,” and I’m pretty sure you will too.
…the words (but you don’t look sick) can somehow diminish and invalidate reality, implying that she can’t possibly be as ill as she claims, given how good she looks at first glance. It’s the curse of all who live with an invisible illness diagnosis – and a cruel irony at that, given that a curse is the last thing that sick people need on top of everything else.
My very favorite chapter has to be chapter seven, “One-Downmanship: You Think You Have Pain?” In this chapter, Thomas addresses some of the “bumper sticker platitudes” and societal expectations. You know the ones. Everything always works out in the end. This was meant to be. Life doesn’t give you more than you can handle. There’s a lesson in this. Thomas prefers to translate them like this:
“Blah, blah, blah…there is no Fair Fairy in life.”
Indeed, there is not.
Thomas also addresses overused war terminology as well as society’s seemingly relentless emphasis on the need for brave positivity. Yours truly is quoted about this on page 107!
Thomas offers these words of wisdom regarding that stale “framing illness as a gift” narrative:
I can, with enough practice and determination, learn to adjust, to cope, to manage, to function, to put one foot in front of the other in order to adapt to this new normal of living with ongoing cardiac issues every day, but please don’t insult me by implying that my diagnosis was somehow a lovely gift-wrapped present that I must have needed in order to bring meaning into an otherwise meaningless existence.
A Woman’s Guide to Living with Heart Disease offers practical, doable tips on how to find your patient voice, how to handle fatigue, how to ask for (and accept) help and more. In addition, there are suggestions for doctors, nurses and other hospital staff members on how to treat patients. The included checklist on exam room etiquette is priceless.
Whether you are a heart patient or a breast cancer patient, sitting on that exam table with your chest exposed countless times while being examined, poked and prodded, means you are far too often in a vulnerable state, and as Thomas states:
Courtesy and good manners in medicine should not be too much to expect.
Are you nodding in agreement?
The insights throughout this guide are so spot on, as are questions to ask yourself. Like this one:
Remember when you were just a person and not a patient?
Hmm, not sure I do.
What about you?
I could go on and on about why and how much I love this book. But for now…
I’ll close by saying, A Woman’s Guide to Living with Heart Disease is a book every woman needs to read. February is Heart Health Month, so this is the perfect time to get your copy.
Because what could be more important than learning how to take better care of your heart health?
If you’d like a chance to win a FREE copy of A Woman’s Guide to Living with Heart Disease, leave a comment below by 5 pm CT on February 20th telling me you’d like to be entered, and you’re in! Good luck! This giveaway is open to US readers only. The winner will be announced on this post.
WINNER! Congrats to Honey Bee! She’s the lucky winner! Thank you to all who participated.
Do you know the symptoms of a heart attack in women?
If applicable, was increased risk of cardio issues discussed with you prior to cancer treatment?
Why do you want to read this book?
Click on the image below and save 20% using the code HTWN when ordering from Johns Hopkins University Press! IMPORTANT NOTE: University Press is offering a 30% HEART MONTH discount – plus a free e-book! – just use the code HFEB when ordering.
About the author: Carolyn Thomas, a journalist and public relations specialist, is a graduate of Mayo Clinic’s WomenHeart Science and Leadership Symposium for Women with Heart Disease. She is the creator of the blog Heart Sisters.
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