We humans are a funny lot. I make this judgment based on my personal experience as a human. And, I admit, I am a pretty quirky one. One of my more ridiculous human traits is to not fully appreciate something until it’s gone.
Many instances of this revolve around my health. There was a cancer diagnosis 21 years ago that first opened my eyes to how poorly I treated my body and how little I appreciated all that made my life full and fun. The disease woke me up and I started appreciating everything more – including this physical vessel in which I have the pleasure of navigating life.
The cancer made me understand on a new level how fleeting health, and therefore life, can be. And I was doing little to make myself healthier, so I made some changes. I lost a lot of weight, became more active, ate better and felt great. But over time, old habits crept back in and old beliefs returned. My diet became less healthy, stress kept me feeling too burned out to exercise and I started to not feel the same surge of excitement and appreciation for each morning to which I awoke. I might still notice a hawk riding the thermals over the river valley, but I no longer made a point of stopping whatever else I was doing to watch it.
Then, about a month ago, when I was falling behind in a fight against the respiratory crud that was going around, I went to the doctor and learned that a heart murmur, discovered a couple years ago, appeared to be getting worse. My general physician wanted me to do further tests to determine the extent of the murmur, which I did. With each test and procedure I became more and more alarmed, because each one seemed to be indicating I had something pretty serious going on. Eventually I was sent to a cardiologist and began learning about heart valve replacements and open-heart surgery. And with each piece of information I became more frightened and regretful that I had dropped the ball on taking good care of my body vehicle. I knew that if my body failed, I would fail and I once again took serious stock of my priorities and behaviors. I mean, I take better care of my car than I do my body. I tend my shoes better than I do my body!
I was afraid I had let myself down. I had not only neglected my body, but I had regularly fed it poorly, under exercised it and rarely ever said a good thing about it. So when my heart health became a question, I began to freak out. We only have one heart and we are completely dependent upon it. Okay, yes, some people do get heart transplants, but even then they only have one heart at a time. And the truth is for all of us that if the heart goes bizarr-o, then life will inevitably change and usually not for the better. I was scared!
But, the cardiologist had a nagging feeling that the echocardiogram that had indicated the aortic valve being severely jeopardized, might not be completely accurate, so she ordered a Trans Esophageal Echo And thank goodness she did because it indicated I have a bicuspid aortal valve, which basically means instead of three functioning flaps on that valve, I have only two. This is usually genetic, so it is likely I’ve had it since birth, but has grown more discernible with time. And since no one in my family has been diagnosed with it or has had heart issues, I never knew I had a wonky heart valve.
Now I do and so, once again, I am waking up. Eventually that valve will have to be replaced, but it’s not to the point where that needs to happen now. I will see my cardiologist every six months unless I begin to have symptoms before then. Really the only limitation I have is I am not allowed to run marathons, which isn’t an issue for me. In fact, if you see me running know that it means someone is chasing me or I am chasing them. I will also take a baby aspirin every day since having a bicuspid valve makes me more prone to a stroke. But that’s it.
Well, that’s it, as far as this medically applies to my heart. But that’s far from it when it comes to my awakening, or re-awakening. The morning after I learned what was really happening with my heart, I awoke for the first time in a month not worried about it or afraid. And, once again, I am finding a deeper, more appreciative connection with…well, everything, especially my body.
I don’t buy into the generally accepted belief that our bodies must degenerate with age. I can’t deny the long-term affects of gravity on a human body – I mean, my breasts and my thighs are inching ever closer to overtaking my knees – but I refuse to believe we have to suffer, even during our later stages of wisdom gathering. I know too many people who are healthy, vibrant and running circles around others decades younger than them to believe in a planned obsolescence of our bodies. Okay. Yes, I know. They won’t last forever. All I’m hoping is that mine lasts, in as healthy a condition as possible, a little longer. For that to happen I must make my body a priority and take the best care I can of it.
I have a lot more fun planned and I intend to show up for every minute of it. There is a lot more laughter to experience, more hugs to enjoy, more kisses to return, more walks and deep to silly talks with friends, more exquisite meals and bottles of wine to share, and a lot more play time ahead. And I have a much deeper appreciation for every one of those things, including thousands of others from tiny to huge.
I’m also hoping that I don’t need another health crisis to wake me up to appreciating all that I have. It’s my intention to not forget just how fortunate I am and how beautiful every minute can be if I fully show up for it. I plan to appreciate it all as it comes and feel each moment as a grand gift that needs cherishing.
Learning that I am not facing immediate open-heart surgery tastes like freedom and I intend to eat it all up!!