City, State: Beaverton, Oregon
What’s Your Heart Disease Survival Story
At 25 years old, my life changed overnight. I was struggling to fall asleep, unsure why, when my heart began to pound faster and faster and faster. It was 180 beats per minute and not slowing down. As I wrapped my arms around my toddler son before heading to the hospital, I feared it would be my final hug. I was rushed to the hospital, where my heart stopped three times and was shocked to get it back into normal rhythm. I was naive to think I could walk away from that experience being the same person I was before.
I spent the next three years fighting for my life, as I overcame post-traumatic stress disorder, learned how to live again and let go of the person I once had been.
While I was sick, I watched a climbing film on my television, presented by Reel Rock, featuring Chris Sharma and Adam Ondra. Both men were competing to be the first person to complete a route, called “La Dura Dura.” They put every part of themselves into this project. They fought for that climb like they were fighting for their life. I was so inspired. I knew when I was healthy again, I would have to climb. I hoped that would be my “someday,” and knew I would at least need to try.
But during my struggle toward health, I lost my marriage, my friends and a lot of family. How would I find the courage to rock climb on my own? How would I find the strength to do any of this? I was frail, weak and barely able to walk on my own for long distances.
By 2015, I was healthy enough to start going on hikes alone. I was so scared and worried that something bad would happen to me. I didn’t trust my heart, myself or my abilities. In my mind, I was still that frail person, sitting on the couch, watching everyone else live their life.
My first summit alone was Spencer Butte in Eugene, Oregon. I almost turned around part way up, because I could feel my heart pounding. My driver for that hike was the need to capture a video on the summit, wishing my then 88-year-old Grandma a happy birthday. She had hiked all over the Northwest with my Grandpa throughout their marriage. Due to deteriorating health, it had been years since she was able to get out for a hike. Although this particular trail head is basically in her backyard, she had never actually been on this hike. That is how I decided this summit would be the perfect one to record my message. Not knowing how much longer she had, I knew this was potentially my last chance to make my way up.
I wasn’t fearless, I just did it scared.
Upon reaching the top, I looked around and was completely blown away by its beauty. I made it! My heart was strong enough to hike this steep trail head. I had completely forgotten about the 10 times I stopped along the way. I forgot about how many times I wanted to turn back.
I decided that if I couldn’t beat fear, I was going to do it scared. There was too much life out there to live.
My biggest fear is my heart stopping, and leaving the people I love the most. It’s a real fear that I hold every day, and because of that, I make the most of every moment. I fully absorb each day with the people who mean the world to me. It’s really important to me that the ones I love know they are absolutely priceless to me.
How do you keep yourself motivated during the difficult times?
I just remind myself that I only get one life. I remind myself that spending any additional time being stressed, or scared, just cuts into the short amount of time I have on this earth. I refuse to waist it on things that don’t matter, and fight for every happy moment. Life happens in moments, and I don’t want to lose any of mine.
Why is sharing your heart story with other women important to you?
I know what it’s like to be alone, afraid, and without a support system. There is a lot of sadness, and loss of hope that occurs with this disease. A lot of women put themselves last, and I want to teach these women that it’s important to put themselves first, and invest in themselves.
What advice do you have for other women living with heart disease?
If you can’t beat fear, then do it scared. You don’t have to be brave to fight this battle. You just fight it, scared, with tears, and keep pushing through. Never give up. Never stop believing.
Many people are not aware that heart disease is the number 1 killer of women in the US, why do you think that is?
I think people still see it as an “Old Man’s” disease. I think women just don’t see it coming.
What do you think you (or we) can do to raise awareness about women and heart disease?
Put a face to this disease. Continue highlighting women, every day women with heart disease. I think it’s important to show it can happen to athletes, mother’s, etc.
What has living with heart disease taught you?
I’m so blessed to be here. I’m lucky enough to have learned that life happens fast, and we are only given so much time. This disease has made me thankful for every memory, laugh, and special moment in life. I’m really thankful for the little things.
What are you thankful for?
My son. My boyfriend, who is the love of my life. The ability to climb outdoors and see so many beautiful places that I never thought I would get to experience.
As a heart disease survivor, you try to live a healthy lifestyle but you are human so what’s your guilty pleasure?
I am always eating healthy, and working out, but my favorite guilty pleasure is drinking hot chocolate with whipped cream!!
What do you like to do for fun?
Climbing, hiking, and running.
Any final thoughts?
Don’t let hopelessness win. Even when you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, it’s there. It took one night, breaking down on my bed, and crying to God for help, that really made me fight. I realized that even though I didn’t see God, I knew he was there, and I knew I could do this. I strapped on my fighting gloves, and made the decision to take every punch, and not give up.