Posted in Inspiration, Life

Fearing the big 4-0!

It doesn’t seem possible – my 40th birthday is just around the corner! For years I had stressed about approaching this next decade, nervous that my mid 40’s would quickly draw near – an age that no one in the family who has had a heart condition similar to mine has lived past. It’s funny how a simple number can create so much stress and anxiety. To put it simply, I was completely freaked me out!! I felt like I was waiting for my expiration date to approach. But I didn’t want to be like that. Even though the fear of death in my 40’s still laid inside my head, I spent much of my 30’s bound determined to find ways to work through my condition so that I wouldn’t end up with the same fate. What can I say, I have been and always will be stubborn and will push myself to the limits rather than give up and throw the towel in. Regardless of what was going on in my head, I had to go above and beyond just to prove to myself and others that even though I was “sick”, I could still do everything a normal, healthy individual could do. Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of times of frustration, but I have always tried to remain optimistic. Wouldn’t you know, that stubborn attitude paid off! My health has improved slightly and the thought of an expiration date in my mid 40’s has subsided. The big 4-0…an age that I had been scared of has now become one that I am actually looking forward to. Through various types of therapy and the love and support of family and friends, I have cast my fears aside and I am ready to live life to the fullest; ready to live on through my 40’s, my 50’s and many years beyond. Age truly is a number. It’s time to forget those numbers and simply live. New opportunities await each one of us and new adventures are ready to be had. To my fellow friends and family also hitting a milestone this year – forgot those numbers. Set some new goals and dream some new dreams. One decade of your life may be ending, but a new one has just begun. Embrace it and enjoy it.

Happy Milestone Birthday to all those having one!!

It is not death that man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.

Marcus Aurelius
Posted in Inspiration, Life

Beginning the next chapter

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The alarm clock on my cell phone sounded.  As I reached to turn it off, I noticed it read 4:00 am.  For a moment, I couldn’t fathom why I had set the alarm so early.  Then it hit me.  Today was the day.  Today I was saying goodbye to my old defibrillator and hello to a new one.  I was the first scheduled surgery, but living an hours drive from the hospital meant an early rise and a long drive to get there.  Fortunately, my fiance, my father, and my step mother would be there with me to keep me company.

The car ride to the hospital was cold and quiet.  Thankfully, no snow was falling to make the drive difficult, but the temperatures were cold enough to chill you to the bone.  I hunkered down in the back seat of dads car, snuggled close to my fiance, and wrapped myself up with the blanket that I found in the back.  As we reached the hospital, the butterflies in my stomach began to flutter.  I was anticipating a long wait, but to my surprise, check-in, registration, and getting settled into my private room took no time at all.  Surprisingly, I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I was going to be.  Likely due to the fact I had been through this procedure before.  I already had an idea of what to expect.  Before long, a nurse came in to roll me on my way to the operating room.  A kiss from my fiance, a wave to my parents, and away I went.

As I lay on the operating table, the temperature in the room felt cool. Everyone in the room moved in a perfectly synchronized dance around me, ensuring to fulfill any requests to make me comfortable.  The one request I made was to see my old device.  Apparently this was an odd request and wasn’t something that patients typically asked for, but they were happy to oblige.  Medication was administered through my IV and within minutes, my entire body was relaxed.  A drape was then placed above my shoulders and around my head, creating a cozy little tent.  The next thing I felt was a cool liquid being wiped across the left side of my chest, followed by a sudden prick of a needle that administered Novocain to the area where the surgeon would cut.  It stung and felt warm – it was uncomfortable.  Once numb, the surgery would then proceeded.  It seemed like only minutes had passed before I felt a hand touch my right shoulder gently.  The doctor was holding a small metal object in his hand in front of me to see.  “We’re all done Ginny.  Here’s your old device!” I heard his voice say.  I couldn’t help but smile and feel incredibly blessed.  This small, rounded, metal box had given me a chance to live throughout the years without fear of dying.  This box was there in order to save my life and it had served its purpose.  I couldn’t help but look at it and whisper “Thank You”.

December 28, 2017 – the day I ended the chapter on the last decade of my life and began the next chapter with a new device.  For others in my family with heart disease, they weren’t fortunate enough to live past their first chapter.  They never had the chance to live past a decade of being a cardiac patient.  I, on the other hand, have been fortunate to continue on with hopefully many more chapters to come.

Life is a precious gift.  Cherish the chapters you are given for you never know when your book will end.

“Today I close the door to the past, open the door to the future, take a deep breath, step on through and start a brand new chapter.”

Posted in Life

Getting back on track

As we all know, the older we get, the faster time flies by.  Life gets a bit more hectic and soon we find ourselves caught up with every day tasks and mundane routines that before you know it, you begin to loose sight of some of the goals and dreams you had set out to achieve. I am not the first person it has happened to, and certainly won’t be the last.  It has and will happen to all of us from time to time.train track words

Five years ago, I began this blog with the intentions to motivate, educate, and inspire others.  This past year and a half I got a bit off track.  I have been busy working, hitting the gym, working on big projects around the house, enjoying some of my other hobbies, working on my photography and of course, spending time with my family and friends.  I most certainly lost track of writing to all of you – my audience.  Does that mean I have given up on my goal and will give up on continuing on with my blog, settling on the fact that I failed at writing?!  Most certainly not!  Like many goals, obstacles may be faced and some adjustments to the original plan in achieving those original goals needs to be made.

So, here I am, starting once again.  Getting back on track to motivate you to aim for your goals and dreams, educate you on what I have learned over the years about heart health through my own experiences as a patient and caregiver, and to inspire you to keep going when you face those seemingly unbearable challenges.

Motivate!  Educate! Inspire!

Posted in Family, Life

Everything happens for a reason

10645158_750337425003352_862100971715368878_nIt goes without saying, when a young life has ended, a midst of the grieving, there is often a question of why that young life was cut short.  Whether it’s a child or even a young adult, it leaves us puzzled and wondering why these “bad things (death)” happen to such young/good people; as if death was a punishment that they didn’t deserve.

This year, towards the end of our family vacation, I received a rather unexpected message from my cousins girlfriend, Becca – news that certainly caught me off guard and shook me to the core.  My cousin Jason, who was just a year younger than I and suffering from the same heart condition as myself, had passed away in her arms just a few hours before.  I couldn’t believe it – I still can’t believe it.  His defibrillator, which was working correctly and trying desperately to restart his heart was unable to do so.  No doubt, this began a series of “What if’s?” which started to roll through my mind.  What if my defibrillator didn’t work properly?  What if my heart goes into a funny rhythm that the defibrillator can’t get me out of?  What if it didn’t work at all?  What if I fell asleep and never woke up?  Question upon question continued to roll through my mind.  These were soon replaced with, Why did Jason have to die so young?, How come I’m still alive and Jason isn’t?

Jason was an honest, generous, and very caring man who had very much the same positive attitude and IMG_5313outlook on life as I did.  When we were toddlers, we even looked so much alike, we probably could have passed as twins.  We were a couple of curly, blond-haired, blue-eyed cuties!  As adults, we shared nearly the same exact heart condition, going to doctors to have many of the same tests performed, taking the same medications, and even having the same type of implants put in to save our lives.  With the invention of social networking, we were able to keep in contact with one another even better, often discussing how our appointments went with our cardiologists and how our hearts were doing, perhaps hoping that we could make each others condition better in some sort of way.

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Jason and Becca

During the funeral, my heart sank for Becca.  I could not even imagine what it would be like to lose the one you love, holding them tight as their life quickly slipped away.  No doubt that Becca was likely asking the same question, Why did Jason have to die?  Jason and Becca had not yet married but they shared their lives with one another and with God as well as with Beccas three children for over 7 years. So for all intent and purposes, the only thing that made them different from any married couple was essentially a piece of paper.  Jason was an incredible father figure, raising Becca’s kids as if they were his very own.  He had a big heart and the kids loved him.

With Jason’s passing, I was reminded how precious life is how we never truly know when “our time” is going to be, so we must cherish those special moment’s with those that we love, no matter how brief those moments may be.  A quick visit, a card, even a quick phone call just to say hello – its important to make time for those brief moments rather than allowing them to pass because we have convinced ourselves that we don’t have time to do them.

I think everything happens for a reason and there is a reason that Jason had to pass so young.  Perhaps God had a bigger plan for Jason up in heaven while he still has other plans for those of us still here on earth.  Some of us are destined to have health aliments, some of us are meant to be advocates and fight for cures and represent others facing the same fate.  Some of us are meant to motivate and encourage others to live a happier, healthier life.  Some of us are meant to fight the big fights to teach others what being strong truly means.  Some of us were meant to pass young to help others understand the meaning of love after a loss or to bring a troubled family closer together.  Regardless of the reasons, one thing is for sure…life is a gift so we should live life to the fullest, overcome the obstacles we may face, and never take the life we are given for granted because you never know when our time here on earth will be over.

10562943_10154540075350612_2894253566950992917_nMay you rest in peace, Jason!

Posted in Life

School is out!!

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It’s official!  With what seemed like an endless amount of essays, papers, and projects to write, hundreds of pages of textbooks to read, and discussion groups that seemed to go on forever – I am finally done!!  Ironically,  I was also looking at my calendar and realized exactly five years ago, I was laying on the operating table, having an ICD put in, not knowing where my life would be headed after.  Scared and unsure, I truly didn’t know what to expect at that time or have any idea whether my health would actually get better or continue to get worse.  Nor did I know what path I would continue on in life itself or expect to be going back to school to work towards another degree!  But here I am, closing yet another chapter of my life.  Once all the formalities are done over the next few weeks, I will have my Bachelors Degree in hand, along with a sense of accomplishment in achieving a goal I had set out to do just a few years ago.  Sure, there were some days I was completely exhausted, other days I struggled to keeps my eyes open.  I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t stressed out sometimes – who wouldn’t be.  Trying to balance being a mom with working full time and going to school full time was a challenge.  Anxiety did mount and there were a few times I questioned whether I was putting myself under too much stress, stress that wasn’t good for my heart.

Know your limits, but never stop trying to exceed them. 

~Author Unknown

But I made it – and with great grades to boot!  I could have easily chosen not to go to school, or I could have chosen to quit when the road go tough…but I didn’t.  I had a wonderful family who supported my decision to go back, an incredible son and boyfriend who took care of things at home while I studied and concentrated on school, and incredibly understanding friends who understood my social life would have to be put on hold.  Now I can finally turn my attention to writing my blog and book in my spare time; setting out on yet another couple of goals I want to work towards to complete.  What a nice change of pace it will be to write what I want to write about rather than what I have to write about.

Posted in Inspiration

Thoughts found on paper

While cleaning out the basement in preparation for a yard sale, I was emptying out some totes that I had packed full of random things and came across something I wrote on a loose piece of paper; something I had written late 2008, the year I was sick….so I figured I would share…

When I look at my life, sometimes I don’t know what to think.  I know I’m not normal….but that’s okay, no one really is.  Besides, what does it mean to have a “normal life” anyways?  No one has a perfect life.  Perfect would be dull and predictable…who wants to live like that?  I don’t.  Sure, I’ve made some bad choices throughout the years, but I have also made some good choices too.  Who hasn’t had their fair share of both good and bad choices?  It’s what life is all about; being proud of the good and learning from the bad.  I figured, if I didn’t make the choices that I did “back when”, then where would I be today?  Would my life be better or worse off had those decisions I made been different?  Sometimes I listen to other people sit and complain how their lives are going nowhere and how unhappy they are with where they are in their life – – –  here’s an idea – Change!!  We all have the ability to make changes in our lives; it just takes a mind set and the will power to do it.

Do I get depressed or bummed?  Sure, who doesn’t from time to time.  Life gets a little rough and overwhelming and it gets to you.  I will admit, sometimes I’ll just curl up and ball my eyes out because things have built up and I need a way to let them out.  But letting out a good cry, I feel much better afterwards.  The thing is, even though I’ve gone through so much; having Zachary and getting married at a young age, only for it to end in divorce only to make another unwise choice of hopping right into another relationship so quickly, only to have that one end in divorce as well.  Dealing with mom’s illness, loosing her, then loosing gram, now having to deal with my own heart issues…I can’t let all of those overwhelming moments get me to the point where I become so depressed and no longer want to go on.  When things get rough, I remind myself, somewhere else, somebody has it much worse off then I do.  I’m still trying to learn not to allow too many things build up and get my stress level to the point where it ends up as an anxiety attack, but I’m getting there, slowly but surely, learning how to better deal with different situations as they present themselves.  Life is far too short, I learned that when mom died.  You don’t know what day will be your last.  Not everyday will go as planned, not everyday will be happy, but everyday is another day to go on living. 

I am a little nervous about being sick, only because of what we went through and saw with mom.  Heading to the hospital, the same hospital and doctors that she seen, it feels like de ja vu.  Only instead of mom in the patient chair, it’s me.  My biggest worry, as a mother, is what would happen to Zach if anything were to happen to me.  Who will take care of him?  What will his life be like if I weren’t around to help guide him?  Have I influenced him enough to make the right choices in life?  I know I shouldn’t worry too much since I know there are plenty of people who would ensure he is taken care of, but as a mother, you still tend to worry what would happen if you aren’t in your child’s life.

Without a doubt, God has a plan for me and there is a reason why I am where I am today.

Posted in Inspiration, Stress Relief

Wear a smile…

How do you fix a really bad day? Wear A Smile!

How can you relieve the stress that you face? Wear A Smile!

How can you lift your spirits when you’re feeling down? Wear A Smile!

How in the world can you fix a frown? Wear A Smile!

How do you ease the pain of being apart? Wear A Smile!

How can you ease a broken heart? Wear A Smile!

How can you fight through the salty tears? Wear A Smile!

How can you face your ultimate fears?  Wear A Smile!

How can you make the pain go away? Wear A Smile!

How can you make someone else’s day? Wear A Smile!

How can you live a better life? Wear A Smile!

How can you have a better time? Wear A Smile!

If life chooses to hand you lemons, what do you do?

You make lemonade, drink up, and Smile!

Posted in Inspiration, Life

Should I change my genes?

I know….a bit of a play on words….but I couldn’t help it.  It’s the question that popped into my head after seeing the material for this weeks Bio class assignments.  If indeed it was possible to do, to exchange the genes that cause so many inherited and detrimental diseases, should we do it?

This got me thinking (again)…If I had to choose my life (health wise) would I choose a life that wasn’t riddled with heart disease over the current life I have?

Honestly, I would keep things exactly the same.  Whether my heart disease results in me living a shorter life, like others in my family. Or perhaps a longer life, with many more years of existence to come, either way, I wouldn’t change anything at all!

Why, you may ask…

I believe that some things happen to us for a reason.  After my mother passed away and before encountering my own heart problems, I felt so lost, with no clear focus on what direction I wanted to go in life.  But nonetheless, I always felt like I was supposed to influence others in some way…the only problem was, I wasn’t sure how or what kind of influence I was supposed to be.  I continued to pray for answers, waiting for them to literally slap me in the face, saying “Here I am!  This is what you’re supposed to do with your life!”.  Obviously, it doesn’t work that way.  A few years would pass before those answers would become clear to me and I would realize what my life’s purpose truly was.  Dealing with the ups and downs of this illness as well as helping to take care of my mother when she was sick has taught me a lot about the human heart, health, and most importantly – Life!  Now, here I am, a cardiac patient dealing with a poor heart, typing a blog and writing a book in hopes to encourage others to embrace life, to be a positive influence and pushing force, as well as a “teacher”, in hopes to educate.  Sharing my experience as both a cardiac patient as well as a caregiver will give hope to others who may face similar situations.

I am sure life would have been far different had I been given a different pair of genes.  But then again, I wouldn’t be me.

“I believe that life is a journey, often difficult and sometimes incredibly cruel, but we are well equipped for it if only we tap into our talents and gifts and allow them to blossom.”
Les Brown

Posted in Inspiration

If Lincoln can do it, I can too!

As the nation recognizes and honors our presidents today, I reflect not only on the accomplishments of the men chosen throughout the years to run our country, but the obstacles they dealt with medically.  Illnesses and challenges that may have often been hidden from public as these men made choices, both good and bad, to run our nation as they saw fit.

My biggest idol, Abraham Lincoln, one of the most well known presidents from American history, suffered from severe depression.  Perhaps if he lived during our time, he would have been placed on disability, pumped full of medication to manage his symptoms, and required to see multiple doctors for his condition or perhaps admitted to a mental institution.  However, he existed before our time, before more advancements in medication  were made and procedures to deal with depression were available.  He lived what many may think today as a troubled life.  His head filled with depressing thoughts and images of low self esteem.  But as we all know, he was elected president and became one of the most recognized individuals in history because of the accomplishments achieved during his time in office.  Not all the presidents that came before or after Lincoln made such a lasting impression on our nation, but the fact that these men dealt with their illness, disabilities or handicaps and accepted their fate as not being 100% healthy did not stop them from pursuing their goals of becoming a leading man to an entire country.

“In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.”
Abraham Lincoln

Over the years, during the time when my heart was extremely weak, before doctors found a combination of medication that would help regulate my heartbeats…a time when I was so exhausted and out of breath that I often feared that I would go to sleep and my heart would stop beating, I found part of my strength and drive from learning about others, such as our presidents, who faced illnesses, disabilities, and handicaps and kept on living life and achieved great things, leaving behind their legacy.  I was tired a majority of each day and multiple naps soon became a part of my routine, but rather than sitting home and feeling sorry for myself, I still wanted to continue working.  Photography soon became a release for me and I made time to stand behind the camera, viewing the world through a lens.  I still set goals for myself, many of which dealt with achievements in my health, they were still goals none the less.  I will admit, there were times that I became so tired and struggling to breath (a result from a weak heart beating irregularly and not having the ability to pump oxygen rich blood properly throughout my body), I would break down in tears and wished I hadn’t been “cursed” with heart disease.  But the feeling would soon pass.

A copy of Lincolns famous Gettysburg Address

I figured, if individuals, like Lincoln, could face such health crisis and still continue to live a life and impact the world around them, I figured I could do the same.  Perhaps it sounds odd, but I am actually grateful for the life I have been given, heart disease and all.  I have accepted that I will be a cardiac patient for life and from this experience I can hopefully educate, motivate and inspire others.  I figure you have two choices when you have to deal with a health crisis.  Either succumb to it and allow it take control of your life or accept your fate, deal with what it throws at you and fight hard to overcome the obstacles that it may throw your way.

Posted in Family

We can’t help what we inherit, Part Two

Mom and I, circa 1980

It was the summer of 1995.  I was just shy of 16 years old, and naturally, looking forward to hanging out with friends, learning to drive and having fun.  My brother was only 14.  Little did we know that one hot summer day, our lives were about to change…

My mother was a stay at home mom.  A rather quiet and very shy woman, she kept to herself.  If she wasn’t home obsessively cleaning the house, she could be found at the mall window shopping or eating out at the local restaurants around town.

It was a Saturday,  an extremely hot and humid summer day…one that would leave anyone feeling exhausted and having no energy.  We had made plans to go shopping with mom, but because of her ill state, we ended up staying home, making plans to go the following day with dad.  We figured it was the heat that was making her sick.  That next day came and mom still wasn’t feeling well.  It was still relatively warm outdoors, but not nearly as warm as the day before. It seemed as though mom was still having a hard time dealing with the heat, sweating profusely and feeling completely drained.  She was grey in color and if you touched her skin, it was ice cold.  Obviously, something was wrong.  Off to the hospital mom and dad went to soon find out that mom would end up becoming a life long cardiac patient.

…To put it in terms that others would understand, mom’s heart was enlarged and very damaged.  She was immediately placed on the list for a heart transplant and for ten years, she lived and dealt with a heart condition that progressively got worse, leaving her to slowly weaken.  Countless doctors appointments and hospital visits and a multitude of different medications and diet changes became the lifestyle she had to deal with.  By March 2004, she had received a heart but unfortunately passed a month later, just days before her 47th birthday.

By the time the children of my mom, aunt, and uncle were growing up, I think the family began to realize there was a serious problem that ran in the genes of our family.  Of the 7 children born between them, 4 of us would encounter our own heart problems; some at birth, others as young adults.   While we could be upset with the hand we were dealt, having to deal with life long health problems, we all have remained optimistic and strong, continuing to wear a smile on our faces.  We also learned the importance of knowing our families health history in hopes to catch any potential health crisis that may come our ways.

Grandma in the early 50’s

It was 2007 and grandma was in her early 70’s when she finally passed away.  She had lived a relatively long life and had faced the heart break of loosing not only her husband but both of her daughters as well.  Her grandchildren were becoming riddled with heart problems and although she never showed it, this bothered her terribly.  But she remained strong and accepted that perhaps it was all God’s plan.  She was an extremely strong willed and very outspoken woman who managed being a single mother raising three children on her own.  She loved her grandchildren and great-grandchildren – they were her life.  She finally suffered a massive heart attack that took her life….but perhaps as heart broken those of us were when it happened, it was simply her time to be with her maker and with the rest of her family that were no longer with us.  There was one prayer that she had hanging up on the walls in her apartment…the serenity prayer…

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
the courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Amen.

Perhaps God gave her the will to be strong and so accepting for all of those years; she had learned to accept what was happening with her family rather than asking the question “Why?”.  Perhaps her faith in God and her family was what gave her the will to live the life she lived.