Occasionally, in the middle of blogging, working, seeing clients for my externship, and sleeping, I have time to read an article or two from someone else’s blog. One blog that I sometimes frequent is “Well”, a health and wellness blog that’s part of the New York Times. It’s a good way to keep up with some of the health topics that mainstream media is talking about, and I enjoy the variety of subjects they cover. The other day I saw the post “Overcoming a Heart Condition to Win Olympic Gold”, and my intereste was immediately piqued.
Turns out US swimmer Dana Vollmer has a cardiac condition that leaves her especially vulnerable to fatal arrhythmias and sudden cardiac death. Not exactly ideal for a young athlete whose life revolves around an intense sport. Dana had two choices: get an implanted defibrillator and probably lose her swimming career, or always carry around a defibrillator to every practice and meet she attended. Her choice? She turned down the implanted defibrillator and kept swimming, and her mom carried around the external defibrillator, just in case. In all her years swimming since then, she’s thankfully never needed it. It gave her the security to continue on with her dream, and now the world can see just how far its taken her.
Now, let’s be clear, I’m not saying anyone with this syndrome should make the same choice Dana did. That’s highly individual, and there’s no right or wrong answer. What I admire is her attitude. Over the years I’ve observed that when it comes to attitudes about health, people tend to fall into two different camps: they consider themselves either a victim or a hero in their own lives. The people who consider themselves a victim tend to give up. They pity themselves, place lots of limitations on what they can and can’t do, and gradually sink into a depressed, anxious state. They’re easily provoked to tears and bemoaning the unfairness of their position, but they’re the first to say they can’t do something because of whatever their condition might be. They often stop exercising entirely, don’t even attempt to eat healthy because: “what difference does it make”, and withdraw from all social outlets because they consider themselves too ill to live a normal life. In short, they’re a wreck, and frankly, they’re quite difficult to treat.
Then there are those who consider themselves heroes; or at least continue to see themselves as the star of their lives, and not their disease. They keep exercising, they eat healthier than they did before, they take every opportunity to be with their family and friends, and though they have moments of anxiety and depression, they pull themselves up and decide that they’d rather spend the rest of their lives enjoying themselves. They recover faster, generally live longer, and the people around them don’t become burned out by having to be a constant caretaker or emotional “pick me upper”. I love taking care of these patients, because even though they may have been diagnosed with a terminal illness, they are some of the most vibrant, dynamic human beings I’ve ever met. I had a patient just the other day that had tattooed “cancer sucks” on his wrist, right where everyone would see it when they checked his armband. It was his act of defiance against the disease that he’d been labeled with, and served as a reminder to everyone in the hospital that he was more than a diagnosis. It brought an immediate smile to my face and brightened my day.
In your pursuit of wellness, remember that there is no such thing as perfect health. You will never reach a plateau where you have nothing to worry about, and no matter how much you try to live a healthy lifestyle, the reality is that we’re all going to die someday. No matter where you are in your journey, I hope you remember that your mental and emotional health is just as important, and sometimes even more important, than your physical health. Don’t let a diagnosis stop you from living the life that you want, because you only get to do it once.