Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Power of Red

"The best way to mend a broken heart is time and girlfriends." -Gwyneth Paltrow 

Please welcome my beautiful, southern-belle heart sister Mary Leah Coco.  We could not be more different and more alike. Mary Leah is the mommy of a beautiful 4 year old girl and the wife of a chef..... and with a family history of heart disease, she is in end stage heart failure.  Just a few years older than me, Mary Leah is waiting for a new heart - someone else's tragedy will be her second chance/new beginning/fresh start.  She is the bravest person I know and I am so proud to call her my friend (though, we often call each other DUDE.)

Red is a primary color.  Red is one of the first colors we can perceive after birth.  Red is commonly used in many cultures as part of wedding festivities.  Red is the color of love and fidelity.  The color red is my sign of hope.  The color red bonds my Rach and I together. 

Rach and I met August 13, 2012 and my life hasn’t been the same since!  When I first met her I thought, thank goodness there is someone else in this world shorter than me. We both sat stoically (well…as much as possible) around a table of women as we shared our stories of heart disease and how it changed our lives.   It is nothing short of eerie to hear your own life’s story retold through someone else’s eyes and voice - and the fact that it’s their life’s story too makes you feel like you are no longer walking the path alone.  When Rachel talked about the risk of having more kids, I could feel her sadness in my gut.  I know this feeling all too well.  We both are so young and had so many visions of what our lives would be like. But heart disease had another idea.  Heart disease chose us and now we have chosen to fight back….to fight back together.

"Coco loves Rach" officially got off the ground when she let me borrow her fabulous red wedges.  All great friendships start with a great pair of shoes, don’t they?  And let’s just be honest here….Rachel is way more fashionable than I am, and the stylist at our photo shoot was insistent on cramming my poor little feet into these torturous heals.  I’m a flat kind of girl, so my poor feet were in pain.  Well, I remembered Rachel’s fabulous red wedges and short of begged her to borrow them……thank goodness she said yes!  I rocked those red wedges, and now they are famous in our 2012 Go Red sister photo!

Let me tell you, I love this girl.  She is the yin to my yang.  I can’t think of a day that has gone by since we met that we haven’t talked.  Even if it’s something as simple as a message that says, “Dude”…..we are always checking in with each other.  We have conversations about potty training, feeling crabby, my obsession with silly jokes, what red dresses we have seen lately, religion, parenting - you name it and we are talking about it.  I admire her fiery spirit, inquisitive nature, compassionate spirit, and her perfectly flawed heart.  She is an amazing mother, fearless warrior, and has a super smart mouth that I love.  Her desire to change the world is rivaled by none other.  I am in awe of her passion for life.

Heart disease is deceptive and surely does not care where you live, what kind of education you have, what your life plans are….heart disease takes what it wants and that is that.  Together, Rachel and I are fighting back.  A song that I feel explains what Rachel and I want to do with this year’s Go Red for Women campaign is Alicia Keys’ “Girl On Fire.”  This song brings a smile to my face, tears to my eyes, joy to my heart, and often articulates what I cannot do alone.  

How do I feel about being part of the Go Red for Women movement? How do I feel about being a heart disease survivor? How am I going to continue to live my life once I get a new heart? How do I approach each day?  I will do it wearing red and on fire!

"Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art... It has no survival value; rather is one of those things that give value to survival." -C. S. Lewis 


Sunday, January 13, 2013

What if (Why I Go Red)

Sometimes the "what if...." is really fun to play - What if we win the lottery? What if you get the promotion? What if we could eat whatever we wanted and never gain weight/damage our bodies?

And sometimes, the "what if..." game is not so fun.  Every day, at least once a day, I wonder to myself:

What if I had died on April 13, 2011?

As far as I know, my SCAD & heart attack are the closest I've come to dying. 

So - really - what if I had died from my heart attack?

It was a beautiful day and Brian, Cameron and Mowgli were all outside enjoying the sunshine after days of rain.  Brian would have found me in the bathroom, still in my nightgown with wet hands and fresh breath. Our old bathroom was small, so I probably would have hit my head on the way down and would have been bleeding.  Brian's pretty calm, even when he freaks out.  He would have called 911 and the ambulance would have come.  SCAD kills about 70% of its victims instantly.  Chances are slim that they would have done anything but pronounce me dead at the scene. 

Somehow, my family and friends would find out.  My mom stays remarkably calm and controlled in the face of tragedy.  She, along with Brian's family, would have helped alot with Cameron, while my aunt Lisa helped Brian plan a funeral. Strangely, people would begin to find out through disbelieving posts on my facebook page.... maybe through an obituary announcement in the newspaper. "Did you hear what happened to Rachel?" Friends would post pictures and hopefully tell silly stories of all the ridiculous things I did growing up. People I haven't spoken to in years would have lamented about never getting around to having lunch or making the coffee date.  Knowing the company I keep, Brian and Cameron would have been overwhelmed with love and support and food and help.  Brian would have been annoyed that there was too much food in the refrigerator and all he'd want is frozen pizzas.

After awhile, folks would move on. I mean, there would still be sadness, but for everyone else - life goes on.

Brian would have taken a good portion of time off work.  I'd like to think that he would have picked up and moved to Colorado, but in reality, he'd be a single dad with a newborn and all his family is here.  So perhaps, he would have stay put for a few years.  Cameron would still be the most loved child in existence - perhaps even more doted on than he is now.  At night, Brian would tell him stories about me and at night before bed, he'd say "I love you, mama" even though he would never really remember me.

Ok - you get the picture.  I'll stop here because even this is too much for me.  Luckily, that's not the way the story ended.

So. What does it mean to me to "Go Red"?
  • It means that I'm a survivor. It means that I took my symptoms seriously and took action.
  • It means that I will take better care of my body, for myself and my well-being
  • It means that Cameron will have a mama and Brian will have a wife as long as my janky heart continues to beat
  • It means that Cameron will be raised as heart healthy as we can manage
  • It means that you'll probably get sick of me talking about heart health and exercise and portion control and trying something new and taking chances and seizing the moment.
  • It means that you'll never get sick of seeing pictures of me with my family
  • It means that anyone who knows me will know my story and hopefully, that will save lives.
  • It means when you or a loved one has symptoms of heart disease, you will take action
  • It means that I've joined an army of women in red dresses and heels who won't let heart disease win.
  • My survival means that advocating for heart health isn't an option or a choice - it is part of my new normal.
 I'm asking you to share this blog with your families and friends and ask that they Wear Red on February 1st.  Email/Text/Post your pictures to me or Go Red for Women's social media sites.  My story could be any woman's story.  Your mom. Your sister. Your best friend.  Your neighbor.  The cute girl you met in the bar.  ANY WOMAN.  I've said this a million times - if you haven't yet been affected by heart disease, you will be.  It is just a matter of time.  And yet, there are so many things (easy things!) we can do.  Start by Going Red.  Start by removing the stigma of talking about heart disease. 

Recently, I was out to breakfast with new acquaintance who asked me "What's the deal with your red pin?"  I replied "Well, I am heart attack survivor....." and before I could continue, she exclaimed "Well, no shit! So am I. It happened, out of the blue, just a few months ago." And quickly, our business-y breakfast transformed into a wonderful sharing of stories. Sadly, our stories are a bit similar.  She was healthy and in good shape when she had her heart attack. And no one can tell her exactly why it happened, but now she's on a bunch of pills and hopes for the best.

I'm tired of hearing that story.... I'm tired of telling that story.  It shouldn't be that way.  So. That's why I Go Red.  And I truly hope you'll join me.

Thursday, January 10, 2013


Hellloooooo 2013.  Mayan Apocalypse averted.  Holiday season survived. And in St. Louis, you would think Spring is right around the corner by the mild January weather we're having. Here's a bit of a hodge-podge update :)

2013 feels like a fresh start in a way I wasn't expecting.  I've never been one to celebrate the new year beyond a fun party, good meal, champagne toast and midnight kiss. But there's something about this year that feels...

good. happy. stable. settled. peaceful. hopeful. inspiring. healed. full of love. 

Recently, I wrote a guest post for my sister spokesperson Mary Leah that explain my thoughts further. Here's a snippet:

Over the course of the last 21 months, I’ve been on a gajillion pills, through cardiac rehab and to numerous doctors appointments.  I’ve switched jobs, purchased a new house, and made more time my loved ones.  And happily, I’ve watched my son Cameron smile his first toothless grin, belly laugh, take his first steps, say his first words and learn to kiss his mama goodnight.

In my own search to come to terms with this experience, I found the opportunity to volunteer with the American Heart Association and through my role as a Go Red for Women National Spokesperson, The Cosmic Joker arranged for me to meet one of my soulmates.  Her name is Mary Leah Coco.  We are very different – but indeed, we are kindred spirits.  Since August, it is rare that we’ve gone a day without chatting.  We swap funny stories and pictures of our kids.  We’re always on the look out for red apparel in each other’s sizes and we keep each other sane when moments of working-mama-drama threaten to take over. When one of us is down, the other is sure to bring on the laughter.  And more often than not, it seems we know what the other is thinking when it’s hard to find the words.  If not for one untimely heart attack, our paths may never have crossed.

Well played, Cosmic joker.  Well played.

And about that Cameron - Cam is a funny, chatty sweet toddler. He loves books and trains and his play kitchen - He loves putting his little stack of plastic pancakes on his tiny griddle and "pouring"syrup on them.  When he proceeds to stick the toys in his mouth, he always has the same remarks: "hmmmm. pancakes crunchy mama!"

He asks a lot of questions and makes alot of demands - like a tiny, little boss. He sings in the morning and in the tub and before bed and is very particular about when I'm allowed to sing along.  And he's really settled nicely into our new house which warms my heart to see. I just can't believe he'll be TWO in a few months - the time just flies.  I still have some newborn pictures on my phone and it really feels like yesterday that he was a teeny-weenie bundle.

 I can't help myself - as much as I want to "stand still" and enjoy every minute of this, I can't help but look forward to all the fun we have as he becomes his own little person.

On a separate note, I'm really excited to share (in my next post) more about my volunteer role with Go Red for Women as American Heart Month kicks off with Wear Red Day on February 1st. If you live in STL keep a look out while you're driving - along with other local survivors, you will soon see me on billboards around town :)

"I believe that if life gives you lemons, you should make lemonade... And try to find somebody whose life has given them vodka, and have a party." - Ron White