The heart of the matter
Let’s review my heart history, shall we?
I know… my Friday nights are so very scintillating. Trust me, I know.
At the start of chemo, almost one year ago, I was given my first ever echocardiogram. It’s a test done via ultrasound that measures the functionality of the heart. One of the numbers that is measured during an echocardiogram is your Ejection Fraction (EF), or how well your left ventricle pumps blood through the heart. An EF of 50% or greater is normal. Most people are within the 50-65% range.
March 2012: EF 55-60% Normal.
August 2012: EF 45-50% Crap! This told us that I have heart damage from the chemo. (It happens to about 30% of patients who received the chemo drug I got.) I almost saw Dr. Goober, but instead landed Dr. Gold as my super-duper cardiologist. I started on a beta blocker and an ACE inhibitor (cardiac medicines) to counter the chemo damage (cardiomyopathy).
October 2012: EF 55-65% Woot! Go me! This was GREAT news, as I’d actually been having cardiac palpitations and shortness of breath.
February 2013: EF 50-55% Hrrrmm. A slight decline. If it declines any more, it makes me sub-normal, and my doctors do not want me sub-normal. We are increasing my cardiac medications and Dr. Gold reiterated the fact that he would like me to be doing 30 minutes of cardio activity per day.
Having your oncologist and your cardiologist say “Jen, 30 minutes a day is what your heart needs” is pretty motivating. (Especially because if I am “sub-normal”, they will not let me have Herceptin, which is my cancer-killing BFF drug that I get every week.)
I say, “Gotcha, no problem-o. I am a Yes Girl when it comes to obeying doctor’s orders and I shall fall in line.”
I’m also thinking: “This will also benefit some of the jiggly bits that have attached themselves to my hips. Score!”
So, I started running on the treadmill in the basement. And after six days in a row of jogging my lungs are feeling better, but my knees, and my shins, and my feet are hurting. Doh. Over the next few days, I try walking, I try inclining, I try running outside, I try jumping rope and doing exercise videos. And still, my feet hurt, my knees hurt, and my shins hurt.
I need my heart to have a little chat with the rest of my body: c’mon team, get with the program. The pattern from the past several years is repeating: once it hurts, the only way to heal it is absolute rest.
So no 30 minutes of cardio for me because it is too cold to cycle or swim. Which puts me in non-compliance with my doctors. And makes me all nervous and twitchy and unhappy.
After I week of frustration and contemplation, my online investigating scores me a free two-week guest pass for the gym nearest my house. A gym with a lap pool. Hallelujah!
So this past week, I’ve been swimming three times, I’ve done one yoga class and one spin class. I’m like, a gym rat. I’ve been able to give my knees and shins and feet a break while still doing 30 minutes of cardio a day. I’ve yet to figure out what I’m going to do when my two-week free pass expires, but it feels good to be compliant. Plus, endorphins rock, people. They rock.
I *love* swimming laps. It brings me back to my childhood summers on swim team. It’s silence. It’s time alone. It’s time to think and pray. I’m so thankful to have worked it out so that I get to do it for a few weeks, and I will miss it when my free pass ends. Thank you, gym gods, for offering a try-it-out pass on the Internet. Your plan is a crafty one; now I do want to belong to your gym.
To be clear, other things have been neglected this week. I bought ingredients for a meal on Monday that I haven’t touched yet. My house is a wreck (which, unfortunately, is more the norm anyway). Maren hasn’t worked on her homework packet at all this week. Essentially, I’ve carved out thirty minutes (plus the necessary logistical window on either side) for me. It’s not often that my needs get priority, but with the weight of my oncologist and cardiologist behind it, it’s no longer a luxury, it’s an essential. I’m choosing to believe that it’s good for my whole family despite the deficits we’ve experienced this week.
I’m praying that the kinks work themselves out so that I can integrate my thirty minutes a day in to my routine, and my family’s routine, as seamlessly as possible. It’s good for my heart: the physical one and the one that feeds my soul. I’m counting on this body to get me through the next fifty years: I love long-term plans!