Yesterday I went for a Sunday drive, top down in my sporty little VW EOS convertible, digging for gold in the Colorado hills near Cripple Creek. The day did not disappoint. The aspen are glorious this year.
What a difference a year makes...
Last fall, when the leaves were changing, I was awaiting aortic valve replacement. Short of breath, fatigued, perpetually anxious, I made the same drive but I don't remember much about it. My mind was focused on other things. I was preoccupied constantly, terrified occasionally. I had read the near prophetic-tone of medical literature stating that 50% of patients diagnosed with severe aortic stenosis are dead within two years if untreated.
This was not my first life-threatening diagnosis. That came when I was 17, a month after graduating from high school. The doctors gave me the diagnosis no one wants to hear...Cancer. Hodgkin's lymphoma. And now, more than thirty years later, the cure came at a cost: my heart had been damaged by the radiation treatments that had saved my life as a teenager.
If you are a long term survivor of Hodgkin's disease, please leave a comment. I hope to build community here. Those of us treated in the '70s and '80s are among the first survivors. We received heavy doses of radiation, much less than current treatment protocols. If you have been diagnosed with severe aortic stenosis with calcification, I urge you to talk with your physician about TAVR (transcatheter aortic valve replacement) as an option to traditional open heart surgery. Even though you are younger than the traditional TAVR patient, you still may be eligible for the TAVR procedure because the upper mantle radiation you received may place you at high risk for traditional open heart surgery.
In this blog, I'll be digging for gold. Sifting through the rocks and mud of my experience, searching for nuggets that I might share with you to lighten your load, encourage you, and most important, let you know that you are not alone. Together, we'll go for the gold.