The past few weeks I’ve been lucky enough to interview women looking to represent the American Heart Association as National Spokeswomen. I’ve heart amazing stories of survival, advocacy and passion. When I was asked to interview a high schooler in the CAPS program I was a little confused. Our conversation ended up going something like this.

Me: So when did you start this program?

Her: August.

Me: In June, before you started, did you know you could get cancer?

Her: Of course!

Me: In June, did you know you could have heart disease? a heart attack?

Her: No. I had no idea. I learned that heart disease is the #1 killer of women. Now I know that.

Me: Heart disease kills one in three women. It will actually kill 7 TIMES more women than breast cancer. Why don’t you think women talk more about their #1 killer? Why doesn’t heart disease get attention?

Her: Because you can’t see it…

She elaborated from there but I was taken back by what she said. People don’t think of heart disease because they can’t see it. She was absolutely right. We have all seen the pictures of lung cancer. While all cancer patients don’t lose their hair, we frequently associate cancer with hair loss. Generally we know what someone going through cancer looks like.

I hope that once I transplant I am able to show you what my heart looks like, damaged and worn. For now, this image is of my heart sister Sadie’s hearts before and after transplant.

Above is Sadie's old her and below is her new one.
Above is Sadie’s old heart and below is her new one.

If our hearts were on the outside would more women know that heart disease is their #1 killer? Even if you have no risk factors it can happen to you.

I was sharing this thought with my nurse and she shared a story of another patient. He was in heart failure. His heart wasn’t functioning well but on the outside he looked normal. As his disease progressed he started to do less. He began to rest more, watch more TV etc. He wife was annoyed. She thought he was being lazy. The nurses helped to explain to both of them what heart failure does to your body, energy, stamina etc.

I have a disability tag for my car – and I get disapproving looks for it. Looking at me you would never know I need a heart transplant or that walking from the parking lot into Target with my two kids wears me out. I try to limit myself to one outing a day so I don’t get too tired.  I rest every afternoon while my son is napping. If I’m out and about the whole day chances are I’m home all day the next recovering. I’m rarely awake past 9:30pm each night and sleep until 7:30am each morning.

Listen to your heart. While you can’t see if something is wrong, if something doesn’t feel right get it checked out. You would get a suspicious lump checked so why not an unusual heart beat?

Don’t judge a book by its cover. The next time you see someone who looks healthy riding the electric wheelchair in the grocery store or parking in a handicapped spot, think of your heart and theirs. You never know how hard it is for them to do those simple jobs or how much your disapproving looks hurt.

Courage, dear heart. ~C.S.Lewis

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