A couple years ago, I wrote a book called Keep on, Keepin’ on: A Breast Cancer Survivor Story about my friend Jean Hanna Davis as she went through her second round of chemotherapy. My next book, due out in April from Best Publishing, is titled Dive-abled: The Leo Morales Story, about a man who lost his entire right leg to cancer and has set world records as a diver.
Cancer has always been a bigger personal issue for me than heart disease. I’m not trying to say that I think cancer is any less important now, of course, but suddenly heart disease prevention has jumped right up there.
Right after coming home from the hospital, a friend referred to me as a survivor. I told my wife that I didn’t feel like a survivor, at least not in the same sense as Jean or Leo. They endured surgery and chemo and radiation and then still had to adapt and change their lives. In my case, I had two procedures and now I’m adapting my exercise and eating, but all of that is about looking forward and preventing a recurrence. On the other hand, and something I can’t take too lightly, I’m extremely lucky that the blockages in my heart didn’t kill me outright. It would have been easy for me to be walking down the street and simply hit the ground.
It didn’t occur to me until I was released from the hospital that February is Heart Month. My new-found heart awareness led me to dig into it a little more and I discovered that we have recognized February as heart month longer than I’ve been alive. President Lyndon Johnson, a heart attack survivor, signed a proclamation declaring it in 1964.
According to the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association, “cardiovascular diseases which include heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure is the number one killer of women and men in the United States accounting for 17.3 million deaths per year. It is also the leading cause of disability. More than 85 million Americans are living with cardiovascular diseases or the effects of stroke.”
It’s not like we need to make huge changes to our lives to be more heart-healthy. Get at least 30 minutes of moderate, focused exercise a day, at least five days a week. Eat more fiber and less sodium and saturated and trans fats. It’s not like you need to become a vegan or go live in a commune—unless you want to, of course. These are simple changes that we can all do.
And maybe with more of us living and not having to deal with heart disease, we can focus our attention on ridding the world of cancer, too.