The heart of the matter

Mar 08

Let’s review my heart history, shall we?

I know… my Friday nights are so very scintillating.  Trust me, I know.

At the start of chemo, almost one year ago, I was given my first ever echocardiogram.  It’s a test done via ultrasound that measures the functionality of the heart.  One of the numbers that is measured during an echocardiogram is your Ejection Fraction (EF), or how well your left ventricle pumps blood through the heart.  An EF of 50% or greater is normal.  Most people are within the 50-65% range.

March 2012: EF 55-60%  Normal.

August 2012: EF 45-50% Crap!  This told us that I have heart damage from the chemo.  (It happens to about 30% of patients who received the chemo drug I got.)  I almost saw Dr. Goober, but instead landed Dr. Gold as my super-duper cardiologist.  I started on a beta blocker and an ACE inhibitor (cardiac medicines) to counter the chemo damage (cardiomyopathy).

October 2012: EF 55-65%  Woot!  Go me!  This was GREAT news, as I’d actually been having cardiac palpitations and shortness of breath.

February 2013: EF 50-55%  Hrrrmm.  A slight decline.  If it declines any more, it makes me sub-normal, and my doctors do not want me sub-normal.  We are increasing my cardiac medications and Dr. Gold reiterated the fact that he would like me to be doing 30 minutes of cardio activity per day.

Having your oncologist and your cardiologist say “Jen, 30 minutes a day is what your heart needs” is pretty motivating.  (Especially because if I am “sub-normal”, they will not let me have Herceptin, which is my cancer-killing BFF drug that I get every week.)

I say, “Gotcha, no problem-o.  I am a Yes Girl when it comes to obeying doctor’s orders and I shall fall in line.”

I’m also thinking: “This will also benefit some of the jiggly bits that have attached themselves to my hips.  Score!”

So, I started running on the treadmill in the basement.  And after six days in a row of jogging my lungs are feeling better, but my knees, and my shins, and my feet are hurting.  Doh.  Over the next few days, I try walking, I try inclining, I try running outside, I try jumping rope and doing exercise videos.  And still, my feet hurt, my knees hurt, and my shins hurt.

I need my heart to have a little chat with the rest of my body: c’mon team, get with the program.  The pattern from the past several years is repeating: once it hurts, the only way to heal it is absolute rest.

So no 30 minutes of cardio for me because it is too cold to cycle or swim.  Which puts me in non-compliance with my doctors.  And makes me all nervous and twitchy and unhappy.

After I week of frustration and contemplation, my online investigating scores me a free two-week guest pass for the gym nearest my house.  A gym with a lap pool.  Hallelujah!

So this past week, I’ve been swimming three times, I’ve done one yoga class and one spin class.  I’m like, a gym rat.  I’ve been able to give my knees and shins and feet a break while still doing 30 minutes of cardio a day.  I’ve yet to figure out what I’m going to do when my two-week free pass expires, but it feels good to be compliant.  Plus, endorphins rock, people.  They rock.

I *love* swimming laps.  It brings me back to my childhood summers on swim team.  It’s silence.  It’s time alone.  It’s time to think and pray.  I’m so thankful to have worked it out so that I get to do it for a few weeks, and I will miss it when my free pass ends.  Thank you, gym gods, for offering a try-it-out pass on the Internet.  Your plan is a crafty one; now I do want to belong to your gym.

To be clear, other things have been neglected this week.  I bought ingredients for a meal on Monday that I haven’t touched yet.  My house is a wreck (which, unfortunately, is more the norm anyway).  Maren hasn’t worked on her homework packet at all this week.  Essentially, I’ve carved out thirty minutes (plus the necessary logistical window on either side) for me.  It’s not often that my needs get priority, but with the weight of my oncologist and cardiologist behind it, it’s no longer a luxury, it’s an essential.  I’m choosing to believe that it’s good for my whole family despite the deficits we’ve experienced this week.

I’m praying that the kinks work themselves out so that I can integrate my thirty minutes a day in to my routine, and my family’s routine, as seamlessly as possible.  It’s good for my heart: the physical one and the one that feeds my soul.  I’m counting on this body to get me through the next fifty years: I love long-term plans!


  1. Jenny S /

    Hi there…you don’t know me. I’m a lurker, linked in from someone else’s page, maybe a friend of a friend, some other place so remote I can’t even remember where it began. But I’ve been reading in the background, silently cheering you on through your battle/journey in life. I’m a nurse, but unexperienced with the big “C,” so there’s never been any moment where I felt I needed to add my two cents.

    Until now.

    I’m a nurse, but I’m also an avid runner and athlete. And I hope I can HELP you! I can tell what you might be doing wrong, and why your feet and shins hurt. I can give you some advice that I hope can help get you out of sub-optimal and back into YES GIRL. And might even help with the jiggly bits too. If you’d like to chat, please find me at the email address linked with this comment. And if not, I still wish you all the best, and will still be silently cheering in the background. -Jen

  2. Jen, please watch the Gerson miracle and food matters documentaries … Life changing, I promise!

  3. Jen ~ Once again, I know you will figure everything out !!!!! 🙂 Continued Prayers 🙂

  4. I know the pain of which you write. Here’s to prayers and knowledge for solving the new conundrum!

  5. Keep your hope. One day at a time WILL bring the answers. Sending some extra love and hugs…

  6. Knees and shin problems….just a thought…is it time for some new shoes?! After some knee and shin pain myself I realized it was time for new running shoes. I went and got fitted for a really, REALLY nice pair of running shoes and it has made all the difference.

    One day at a time…you will make this a part of your routine. All is well.

  7. A little unsolicited advice for you: Pinterest has a ton of at home exercise you can do. Anything involving your biggest muscle (legs) will get your heart rate up, but there are lots of whole body workouts that involve abs or being in plank position that will shift the impact off of your lower legs and feet. I love to do Zumba videos, you can find free ones online and it is good, low impact cardio. Good luck to you on finding something you can do everyday! 🙂

  8. jackie /

    New shoes. I swear by them. I had all the pains you describe, plus hip/joint pain when I trained and ran the Flying Pig Half Marathon in ’09. You may have arch prolapse, which requires support for your arch when you run. Once I got properly fitted at a Fleet Feet store, where they watched me run and listened to the pains I’d described, I. haven’t had any of those pains while running. Not ever, since. Go get yourself fitted – Bob Ronker’s in O’Bryonville is good, too – run happy and stay healthy 🙂

  9. Katie /

    Ditto to the above posters who mentioned shoes. I got fitted for running shoes for the 1st time a couple months ago and have been training for a half marathon without any of the shin splint problems I usually get from running. Definitely worth a try!

  10. Sharon Hajek /

    You are so a 100% healthy mom!! You didn’t cook the great meal you intended, your daughter didn’t do her homework, you had 30 marvelous minutes in silence to do something you enjoy, and now you’re rethinking the whole thing. Sounds normal and typical for every mom, My advce: Swim 30 joyful minutes and thank God that Noah, Jonah, and all the fishermen apostles will soon unveil a safe long term exercise plan for you.

  11. Erika /

    Awesome. Get your work-out on, girl! I just started running in November and I could not agree with more…endorphins ROCK! Keep kickin’ butt and takin’ names. You’re a true inspiration.

  12. Katie /

    Where I live, the YMCA offers a program called “After Breast Cancer” – it’s free and includes personal training, access to the facilities, nutritional planning, etc. I wonder if there is a program like that where you live? Anyway, just a thought! You are amazing!!

  13. Sarah /

    So I’ve been following your blog ever since Glennon from Momastery sent the Monkees over here last year 🙂 There are so many things that could be causing the pain you are describing! If it’s not shoes, you could be training too much too soon. I’m a runner and I generally don’t run more than two days in a row, even when I am training for a race. This gives the joints and muscles time to recoup and build strength, rather than constantly breaking those tissues down with a run day after day. Maybe you could swim on days in between runs when you get back to running? Lower leg pain can also be a symptom of tightness further up the body in the hips or lower back that can cause irregularities in the running gait. I teach yoga and my favorite teacher is an endurance runner/coach/yoga for athletes expert. She has tons of free, very useful videos and podcasts of short, effective stretching sequences for after workouts that can address tightness and imbalances common in an athelete’s body. I like to keep the podcasts on my iPod so I can just play one as soon as I finish a run. I hope you are able to quickly figure out a gameplan that works for you!

  14. I despise running, mostly because of joint & back pain that is hereditary, not shoe related 🙂 We finally broke down and bought an elliptical machine and I love it! I get a great workout by using the resistance and no joint pain at all. It might be worth looking into.