Health Scare, Trust, and Second Opinions

Alan and I spent several days last week looking at death.

That sounds a bit dramatic I know, but it’s true.  At his doctor’s appointment last Thursday Alan was told that he had an aortic aneurysm. And that it could kill him at any moment.

Let’s back up a bit. This is the second time in less that a year that Alan has been given a serious, life-changing diagnosis. Last year he was told by a Pulmonary specialist that he had COPD, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema. This for an athlete who never smoked, lives a healthy lifestyle, and aside from asthma, had no previous indication of such disease.  We knew that he was very sick at the time, but when we heard that diagnosis we were in shock. Alan, who had really been too sick to train, felt that any hope of recovery or competing in another Ironman had been ripped away from him.

Health Scares - aneurism

That lasted for about two weeks. He was given a prescription for the appropriate COPD drug, but because he is a stubborn (and brilliant in retrospect) man, he refused to believe, as he put it, that he was now relegated to a life of shuffleboard. He made an appointment with another doctor.

Doctor #2 scoffed, “You don’t have COPD! This is just your asthma!”  Alan was put on a prescription for montelukast (I’ve raved about it here before and have since started taking it for my own exercise induced asthma). At the same time, Dr. #1 got back results on the second culture test that she had ordered. The first one, for which Alan had been told to submit his sample after finishing a course of steroids and antibiotics, had come back negative. It seemed ridiculous to us that they would wait until he was (temporarily) well to take the test, so Alan insisted that they do it again when he was in the midst of illness. Thus he was finally diagnosed with a fungus in his lungs, finally treated correctly, and finally was able to get well. If that story seemed confusing and convoluted to you, imagine how Alan felt..this was his lifestyle that he was fighting for!

One of the tests that Dr. #2 ordered was a CT scan on Alan’s lungs, just to see that everything had cleared up and if there was anything else to worry about.

That brings us pretty close to the present, where because of an insurance change, Alan went to see Doctor #3 last week.  Dr. #3 is a general practitioner, because now we are dealing with an HMO system. This was when Alan received, for all intents and purposes, his death sentence.

He has an aortic aneurysm, said Dr. #3. Alan was pretty much told, that if he continued his active lifestyle of running, swimming, and cycling, that it could burst at any time, and that he would be dead on the spot. At 4.2 centimeters, the aneurism was not considered an immediate threat, though if it grew, open heart surgery would be the recommendation. While his low blood pressure and fitness were in his favor, here was another doctor telling him he might be better off playing shuffleboard.

Health Scares - aneurism

As you can imagine, Alan left the doctor’s office in a state of shock and disbelief. When he told me, I could hardly take it in, it seemed so unbelievable. Alan put on a pretty good front for me, as we talked about lifestyle changes and what we would have to do, but he was deeply upset and disturbed. Pretty soon though, he got to thinking, “I was misdiagnosed before. Could it happen again?”

We are very fortunate to have a friend who is a radiologist. Alan called him the next day, told him what was happening, and he basically dropped everything and told Alan to bring in his records and he would take a look. So, on to Doctor #4.

Health Scares - aneurism

After taking a look at the reports and the actual film (it’s on a disc so I’m not sure if that is the right word), Alan was told by his friend, who is a highly respected and experienced radiologist, “don’t worry.” In fact, he was surprised that it was made out to be so serious. The location of the aneurysm was on the curve of the ascending thoracic aorta, which made it seem slightly bigger than it was. It was also what is called “ectatic,” which means that the artery, though stretched, is unruptured.

Alan is waiting to schedule another CT scan, but in the meantime, we are feeling a lot better. Dr. #4 said he didn’t think that there would be any change in the size of the aneurysm. At this point, it seems unlikely that Alan will have to make a huge lifestyle change (no shuffleboard in his near future!), and we don’t have to worry about surgery or imminent death.

My husband is a lot more private than I am, which is why you never heard the COPD story before, but he agreed to let me write about this. We both want to share because it shows the importance of asking questions and always getting a second opinion! Don’t let any doctor relegate you to the shuffleboard courts without a fight!

The week ended on a much brighter note. On Friday, my daughter-in-law texted me a video of Samuel, which really made my day. They prefer to keep it in the family, so I removed it from my post.

We also had a chance to meet Carrie from Family, Fitness, Food, who was visiting La Quinta with her family. This wasn’t as easy as it sounds, since they were getting in some serious pool time and I had to work all three days that they were here. We managed to finally meet at Starbucks, and now I know that I like Carrie as much as I like her blog! Being good bloggers, we did get a picture, but it turned out pretty bad, plus it includes Carrie’s daughter (who is a beautiful young dancer), so I won’t post it here.

After a tough week, Alan and I are both feeling pretty positive about the whole thing. Alan swam on Friday, went for a run with the cross country team on Saturday, and rode his bike on Sunday, so that part of his life is looking great. We just want you to remember, always get a second opinion.

How was your weekend? Any events, races, or great training you’d like to share?

Blogging My Heart Out

February is Heart Health Month, and today, February 22 is Blog Your Heart Out Day. Bloggers are joining together today by speaking up about the #1 killer of women–Heart disease.

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I know this all too well because I lost my mother to the disease at the much too early age of 65 (eight years after my father also died of a heart attack). Although her father had also died of heart disease, my mother had no idea that she also suffered from the disease. Women weren’t routinely checked (as many men were), and women’s symptoms are frequently different from men’s.

Women’s Heart Attack Symptoms

While women may feel that squeezing pressure that is common for men, they also frequently describe symptoms similar to flu or acid reflux. (Sadly, when we found my mother the morning after she died, we found a medical book open to a page about heartburn.) Sometimes women describe  pressure in their upper back that feels like a rope being tied around them. Lightheadedness, dizziness, or even fainting are other possible symptoms. Many women are shocked that they could be having a heart attack, and they will brush off symptoms and not call 911.

If you have any of the following signs for more than five minutes, call 9-1-1 and get to a hospital immediately:

  1. Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of your chest. It lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.
  2. Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  3. Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
  4. Other signs such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea, or lightheadedness.
  5. As with men, women’s most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain.

Making Healthy Changes

If you haven’t done so already, now is the time to make changes in your lifestyle to help prevent heart disease. Make an appointment with your health care provider to discuss your risk factors. Ask about getting a lipo-protein blood screening.

Other changes that you can make:

  1. If you smoke, quit.
  2. Start an exercise program. Walking just 30 minutes a day can lower your risk.
  3. Modify your diet if necessary. Check out these healthy eating tips from the American Heart Association.
  4. Join the Go Red for Women Movement. Make it your mission to learn about the risks for heart disease and spread the word about prevention.

Making small changes can dramatically reduce your risk. Start today! For more information about heart disease and prevention, please visit the following sites:

The American Heart Association

Go Red for Women

Two People, a Community, a Brain Tumor, and a Miracle

Yes, a Miracle Can Happen

Two People

miracle

This is first a story of two people, Amy and Jeff. They are friends, lovers, athletes. One of those couples that seem perfect together, have so much fun, are so caught us with each other, yet at the same time are kind, wonderful friends to everybody. They are triathletes (yes, ironmen), so Alan sees them more than I, but when I bump into Amy or Jeff while riding or around town, I am always greeted like the closest of friends.

miracle

I want to tell you the story of a miracle. It will be a little disjointed, as I have pieced it together from what Alan has told me, and from posts on facebook. Amy has given me permission to tell their story, and I hope that other friends that read this will add their perspective as well.

On Thursday, a little over a week ago, I came home to see Alan, looking serious. He told me that our friend Jeff had complained about a headache, had seen the doctor, and they had found a large, malignant brain tumor.  (Amy told me later that Jeff had actually gone from headache, to nap, to coma at their house. She called 911 and they got him to the hospital, where a neurosurgeon was called. He arrived within 15 minutes, drilled a hole in Jeff’s head to release pressure and found that his brain stem had been crushed. An MRI revealed the tumor.) He was scheduled for surgery on Friday. Apparently, the tumor was so fast growing that Jeff had no idea that anything was wrong.

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The Community

After Amy’s announcement, there followed a huge outpouring of love, prayers, support, and memories from friends and family. The community was in action. A facebook page was started, where friends could log in for news, to share photos and memories, and to offer support. Friend after friend stopped by, anxious for information, each sharing words of love and support.

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Just a very few of the hundreds of posts supporting Jeff.

A Brain Tumor

On Friday, Jeff had surgery and his doctors removed 80% of the tumor. One report claimed that the tumor was half the size of his brain. I don’t know if that is true, but I know it was huge. (Amy told me later that Jeff’s whole brain had shifted to the right.) The doctors warned Amy not to hold out too much hope. Chances were that Jeff would never wake up, over one in a million in fact. They expected him to stay in a vegetative state.

miracleAlan and I went to bed Friday night feeling very sad. The thought that our friend, with his vibrant personality, might not make it was so very disheartening. Our hearts went out to Amy and the rest of his family. Then, when I woke up on Saturday morning, I read this:

miracle Okay, this was early on Saturday morning, barely hours after his surgery, and Jeff was responding! While Amy tried to play it down, everyone, all Jeff and Amy’s friends were excited and hopeful. He had already proven that he was one in a million. What else?  Apparently a lot more.

By Sunday morning, Amy posted that Jeff was talking and laughing and cracking jokes. His first words were, “No f….ing way!” They took out the breathing tube and he was breathing on his own. Even the surgeons were using the “M” word: Miracle.

By Monday, a friend reported that he was out of bed and walking.  We finally got to see a picture.

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While hopes were high and the news seemed to be so good, Amy reminded us that this was a brain tumor after all, and the future was still uncertain. She said this to remind us to embrace every moment that we have, just as she and Jeff were doing.

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But the news just kept getting better. Joking and laughing, he was moved out of ICU and into a private room. More pictures showed a smiling and happy Jeff who was ready to start the next part of the recovery process. This is Wednesday, just five days after surgery.

miracle miracle

 A Miracle

And finally Friday, just a week after surgery (less time than it has taken my cold to go away), the words we’ve been waiting for, Jeff is going home. He has a long, arduous road ahead, but he is alive, surround by loved ones, with a new realization of how precious life is.

miracle

 

miracle

This morning, Amy posted a picture of Jeff and the family, saying, “Best night of our lives.” I believe it and I wish them many more just like it.

Want To Help?

If you read this story and feel like you want to do something to help, there are several ways. First, your prayers and good thoughts are wonderful. If you believe in miracles, and after reading this story, how can you not, you know the power of community, the strength of our hope, prayers, good will, whatever you want to call it, coming together as a force to contend with.

If you live locally, a group of people are volunteering to help with bringing meals in to help with the load. If you leave a comment I can connect you with the right people.

Finally, a fund has been started to help with the huge bills that are already starting to roll in. Jeff’s Road to Recovery Fund is set up to take donations from $5 and up. You can click the button below to be taken to the FundRazr page.

I also hope that this story will remind you of just how fragile life is. You need to soak up every moment, every experience, and enjoy every second of this short time that we are given. Please take time today to hug your spouse, children, and friends. Tell them how much you love them and how much they mean to you. I know that is what Jeff and Amy are doing.

Gluten Free Update: 4 Days In plus GF/Vegan Resources

So, I’m four days into my gluten-free experiment. In a nutshell: I’d feel great if it wasn’t for the root canal and extraction that I had today. As I sit here with gauze clamped between my teeth, I just want to share a bit about my first few days of going gluten free.

While I haven’t been very adventurous, my diet for the last few days has not been boring. Breakfast has generally been a smoothie, using up my fruit servings for the day (I added some spinach today to get some veggie servings in too). I’ve also had a slice or two of Udi’s gluten free bread. Lunch is usually leftovers from dinner the night before, but I also stopped by Clark’s the other day and picked up an Evolution bean wrap that was gluten free.

For dinner, I have made a couple big salads, which is a great way to get extra veggies in. I also made tempeh burgers the other day (Alan had his on a bun, mine was on a slice of the Udi’s). Tonight, I made the filling for tofu and potato burritos. I am on a soft food diet for a couple days, so I made sure everything was cooked thoroughly and easy to chew.

How do I feel? I feel good, but, honestly, I don’t know that I feel any different. I’m sure that four days isn’t enough to truly get an idea of results.

As I promised, here are a few links that I want to share with you. These are blogs that are vegan, gluten free, and some of them are soy free as well. I have not really explored each website yet, but I am excited to do so. I hope that you will check them out too!

The first blog, Cupcake Kitteh, is vegan, gluten free, and soy free. I’ve been following her for a while (from afar, she’s in Australia) and she is the source for many of the blogs below.
I am happy that I found Marathon Mom when she commented on my gluten free post.
Gluten Free, Soy Free, Vegan, food that feels good.
Green Vegan Living, living each day to the greenest, cooking gluten-free and vegan along the way.
Happy Vegan Face, vegan eats, gluten-free cooking, and all the awesome along the way.
In the Mood for Noodles,
Living Free, vegan and wheat free.
Veg-am, ramblings of an amateur vegan cook.
Two Cups of Love, gluten free and vegan cooking.
The Vegan Chickpea, the gluten-free and vegan musings of a Ms. and Mr.
The G-Spot Revolution, because a healthy life shouldn’t be hard to find.
The Discerning Kitchen
The Manifest Vegan, gluten-free, animal friendly recipes.
Eat to the Beet, gluten-free, vegan blog.
Diet, Dessert, and Dogs, Sugar-free, gluten-free, allergy-friendly. Anti-candida living. And comments from my dogs (my favorite part!).
Barefoot and Frolicking, a space for musing on living, raw foods, and vegan cuisine.

A couple things I’m saving for another post:

Tomorrow is my birthday! Alan and I are heading off to Vegas where he will be announcing the Really Big Free Marathon.  I won’t be running the race, but I hope to get a few miles in while he’s working.

Our girls cross country team is going to CIF (the first round on the road to state!). I can’t wait to write about this, the girls were so awesome in their final league meet (they even beat our rival, ahem, La Quinta).

cross country

And, of course, the full story of the root canal.

So, what are your plans for the weekend? Hopefully no root canals!

Taking Steps to #OptimizeHealth

I always think of myself as pretty healthy. After all, I’ve dedicated my life to it. I’m a personal trainer and coach. I follow a plant-based diet and try to eat healthfully, choosing whole foods as much as possible. I run, weight train, do yoga, regularly. I keep up to date on nutritional news, both for myself and so I can pass information on to my clients.

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Leaping into Calm

Today’s Health Activist Writer’s Month Challenge:  Keep Calm and Carry On. Write (and create) your own Keep Calm and Carry On poster. Can you make it about your condition (health focus)? Then go to The Keep Calm-O-Matic and actually make an image to post to your blog.

Here is my poster:

CalmI chose promoting a plant based diet as my health focus for this post. The header image is the Leaping Bunny logo, which is used to indicate cosmetic, household, and personal care products that are cruelty free and contain no animal by-products.

I had to make the font a little smaller so that the word “cholesterol” would fit on one line. I thought it was important, because even though I am vegan for the animals, the health aspects of a plant based diet is strongly supported by research. And while having no cholesterol is just one aspect of a healthy vegan diet, it is still a talking point, along with lower fat, higher fiber, and fewer calories.

Here’s a challenge: Go to Keep Calm-O-Matic and make your own Keep Calm poster. Then share the link in the comment section.