Riding for my life. Literally.
It seems everyone’s favourite question for me at the moment is ‘Why did I take up cycling?’ I guess up until the diagnosis I received 4 weeks ago today, I’d have simply said ‘because it’s fun.’ I didn’t know 4 weeks ago today that my life would be different, forever….
It was only a year ago I wrote a blog about My fear of not reaching the age of 52…it was something that had been underpinning so much of what motivated me to change my lifestyle, my habits and thinking. I remember all too well that early morning knock on the door as the police tried to raise my mother’s attention. My father had been found dead on an interstate business trip from a massive heart attack. That was the day I’ve always said my world changed forever…
From this in 2010…overweight, unfit, unhappy, at risk of chronic illness.
Fast forward to 2018 as an Ambassador for This Girl Can – VIC campaign…I’m the ‘happy cyclist’!
As I approached the age of 50 I secretly harboured this fear that maybe I too would be that knock on the door for my family. I’d had the warning from the doctor that I’d put on a lot of weight, that I probably should have my blood sugar tested because I’d had gestational diabetes, oh and that little thing he reminded me of about that family history of heart disease.
Like many women, I was resistant to facing the reality of my own health – I didn’t want the blood sugar test because I was quietly worried about what it would show. Having had gestational diabetes my chance of developing Type 1 diabetes increased substantially. And of course there was nothing wrong with my heart, because I’d get chest pains if there was….wouldn’t I? Besides, I’d been a running coach.
I lost my Dad when he was 52 years old…a massive coronary. I was 12 years old.
As I stood on the grassy patch beside the bike path, teary and angry as I wrote about in my blog, I wondered why everyone else was going so fast, why did they keep riding off…what’s their problem! Well, it was like an epiphany standing there – at that moment, as I looked at my husband watching me I knew he wanted to say something. I knew he wanted to tell me I was overweight and unfit…but he didn’t. Deep down inside I knew it was MY problem, not somebody elses – I had chosen inactivity over activity.
I was in denial about my weight, about my condition and pity help anyone who even dare so much as mention that I was buying clothes at a plus size store. Was this really me – how did I get to be like this? I’d always been fit and healthy – the truth is, it was easier to sit on the couch and do nothing.
That day on the grassy patch changed things – I started cycling…and now I can look back and know what a truly pivotal point it really was in my life. Because you see, 4 weeks ago to the day, I was diagnosed with a 50% closure of my Left Anterior Descending Artery in my heart. I have heart disease.
I sat in the car for about 20 minutes after the visit to the cardiologist for the results of my tests. I couldn’t see a damn thing because the tears just kept welling up and I wondered how the hell I’d get home, and how the hell I’d ended up here. My fists clenched so tightly on the steering wheel, I was angry, devastated, petrified. I managed to call my husband who was as freaked out as I was – was I about to die?
I had gone from inactive, to active…I never measured my weight. I just rode, and rode, and rode.
Well, thankfully no I was not about to die – the person who went from being referred to as ‘the cardiologist’ is now called ‘MY cardiologist’, because I know I’ll be seeing a whole lot more of her. But the truth is, when you are faced with that kind of diagnosis and you’ve been doing everything you can to keep you from being the statistic, well frankly I was pissed off!
I’d had all the tests and everything indicated that I was in great shape: low cholesterol, low blood sugars, liver function fine, blood pressure great, resting heart rate great, stress test showed heart muscle function is great – I’m a super fit woman! So why the hell was I sitting there listening to her tell me I’d now need to be on a regime of drugs forever, just like an old person…yes, forever.
Clearly, I had been hit with the unlucky stick on the day the genes were dished out…the gene pool got me big time on this one. I felt so shattered and so let down and I’ll admit, I spent the first few weeks thinking damn you, why me! It’s not fair, nothing has made a difference, why did I even bother.
It took me a few good bike rides (albeit cautious ones) to refocus, and rethink about everything the cardiologist and GP told me. Keep riding, don’t stop, don’t wrap yourself in cotton wool, go for long rides…effectively, do everything I was already doing. Because the truth of this is, that though many may say you can’t fight the gene pool, they agreed I’m proving you can.
There are so many what-if’s in this topic… what if I never picked up that bike…would I be here now to tell you my story? Might I be the statistic?
I probably don’t really want to dwell on the answer to that question, and certainly my family doesn’t. It’s been a scare for us all. But what I do want to focus on is the importance of listening to my body, making time for me, asking the right questions I need answers to, and staying active…because all of those things are ultimately what has put me in a great position.
I’ll also admit that I raised the issue with my doctors that I felt like a fraud being an Ambassador for Jean Hailes for Women’s Health and This Girl Can – VIC, given I actually have heart disease – was I really the picture of health everyone says I am? Their rational reassurances allowed me the time to see the picture as it is – I’m at risk, I did something about it, and by all accounts I’m winning. I’m beating the gene pool and the power of knowledge has given me license to take it on. I will not be derailed!
So, in this week of Women’s Health Week, let’s focus on #MyHealthFirst…I did, and I’m glad I did. I knew there was something not quite right – I’d been coughing for months, I coughed so much I had a sore chest, I kept getting a cold feeling in my left arm, I huffed and puffed next to riders half my fitness. I was tired, run down and wondering if this was ‘normal’ for a woman of 55. I went with my gut instinct and dropped the fear factor and went to get some help from my GP…I was glad I did. Now I armed with the information I need to stay strong.
So now, if you ask me why I started cycling, perhaps my answer has changed a little. I will tell you…I am riding for my life. Literally.
NOTE: Always consult your doctor before undertaking any exercise program. If you think you aren’t feeling quite right, see your doctor!!
A NOTE TO OUR WW RIDERS:
Just to cut you all off at the pass…no, I am not in imminent danger of having a heart attack. I can do everything I have been doing, but I need to monitor things and take medication. I can ride the hills, ride in Japan, keep having fun on bikes. So for our WW riders, please do not worry I am placing myself or you in danger. I’m have been reassured by medical professionals I am not.
Please don’t keep asking me how I am…I’m strong, I’m fit and I’m determined. I will keep fighting this, now more than ever. Don’t second guess my condition or make assumptions – I have the facts, you don’t have them all. So let’s all be sensible and keep pedalling and smiling!