Speak Up for Heart Health!
What does advocating for yourself actually look like? It looks like having a cup of coffee with skim milk if you want while your friends each get a slice of chocolate cheesecake—and not feeling funny about it. It looks like telling your significant other or older children that they have to pitch in more with household chores because you need to have a half hour for exercise most days of the week. It looks like closing the bedroom door behind you for 20 minutes a day to collect your thoughts.
In other words, advocating for yourself means not letting guilt and social anxiety stand in the way of your own efforts to care for your body.
Enlisting Friends and Family
What does it mean to get your friends and family to support you in your efforts? It means that while you may have to respect their choice not to eat well and exercise regularly, they have to respect your choices. If everyone in the household is eating ice cream and makes fun of you for choosing a small yogurt with a little dried fruit mixed in, you have a right to tell them that they’re trying to sabotage your effort at something that is extremely important to you. You have a right to tell them that you want to be treated more respectfully.
If someone says it’s not "you" to be wearing sweat pants and working up a sweat during a brisk walk, you have a right to tell them that it is indeed you (and, perhaps, that you’d enjoy their company, if they’re up to it).
None of this means you should "preach" to loved ones about how they should live. But by the same token, you can demand not to be belittled or pooh-poohed.
Let’s say your have high blood cholesterol, and your doctor writes out a prescription for a drug to lower it. But what if you said to your doctor, "I really want to try to avoid the drug route, if at all possible. What would you think about my trying a heart-healthy diet and intensifying my exercise efforts and coming back in six weeks for another cholesterol test before we resort to medication?
In other words, don’t be a passive recipient of your medical care. Partner with your physician and other healthcare professionals to keep your heart as healthy as possible. You may even want to ask your physician to refer you to a registered dietitian for some nutrition counseling. Often, insurance companies won’t pay the cost without a physician referral, and maybe your physician won’t know how committed you are to making the necessary lifestyle changes unless you inform her or him.
Part of advocating for yourself at the doctor’s office is always knowing your own numbers—your blood cholesterol, your blood pressure, etc. That way, you, in effect, become one of the health "professionals" keeping tabs on whether any lifestyle changes—or drugs—are helping as they ought to.
In the Emergency Room
In the rare instance that you might end up in the emergency room for symptoms related to your heart, the first order of business is to get there as soon as you feel something is amiss. If you are having a heart attack or stroke and you tell yourself "it’s nothing" or otherwise minimize your symptoms and delay treatment, you can increase the degree of permanent damage that will occur—or worse. A cardiovascular event can be a matter of life and death. Get someone to drive you to the hospital immediately, or call 911.
At the hospital, don’t feel awkward about suggesting you may be having a heart attack, and don’t let any healthcare personnel tell you that you’re not because you are a woman. Remember, just because women’s heart attack symptoms are generally more diffuse and vague than men’s (it could feel more like persistent indigestion rather than a train wreck on your chest), more women die of heart disease than men every single year.
Take another person with you to the hospital, if at all possible. She or he can fill in where you may not be able to.