Running up the Hill

It was spring in DC - full on SPRING. It has yet to travel up the coast to Boston. I spent a few days in DC with the American Heart Association as part of Lobby Day - time to speak to members of Congress about the importance of funding research in the areas of heart disease and stroke research. For example, did you know that for all of the National Institutes of Health's budget only 4% goes towards heart research, and 1 % towards stroke, yet heart disease and stroke are the Nation's number 1 and 3 killer... interesting little fact.

So there we were - more than 300 people from 46 states across the country to discuss heart health and stroke awareness. It was an impressive sight to be sure: the color red could be seen from afar. I wonder whether they listened. The Hill is full of lobbiests. Every day, every hour, every minute people traipse up to Capitol Hill and pitch their stories. At times it seems that it takes more energy than it is worth. It is a steep climb up that hill - both literally and then it is figurative for those of us dealing with heart disease and stroke.

And then, in an instant it changes. The stories come out:

-A young girl born with a heart defect who subsequently suffered a stroke

-A woman who has suffered several strokes due to a rare brain disorder

-A woman who has had three open - heart surgeries for valve replacement, and knows that the valve will not outlive her, so she will need another (she is only in her 40s)

These are not stories of older white men collapsing on a golf course. These are the people who deal with heart disease and stroke every single day. I hope that our trip made the incline on the hill a little less steep for those of us who have to climb it everyday...


Stepping forwards & Backwards

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(image from www.zazzle.com)

 

So, I thought that I was going to be able to start "walking" the other day. NOPE. Michael, my PT (who is amazing), pulled out a calendar and pointed out that in fact 6 wks was the FOLLOWING day, and there was absolutely no way that weight bearing would commence a day early. I literally collapsed on the PT table (ok, part of the dramatic move was for effect, part was from pure exhaustion of holding myself up all day, but part was from utter desperation and the need to get off the crutches).  He explained that I would need to wait 5 more days.

Now, that being said, I was allowed to get on the bike and start using some resistance.  OK - I will take these little victories as they come, I thought to myself.  So I got to go on the bike. I started riding the bike and turned to Michael and remarked out fast I was going (it really felt fast) and then the bike's power shut off b/c I guess I was not going fast enough. 

I managed to hit about 40 rpm. Let me tell you - I felt freaking AMAZING (I might start training for the Tour de France). 

Minutes 1-3

"Come on Michael. I mean if am feeling really good, I can do this for like  20 min, right?"

(NO LILY, YOU CAN'T) 

Minutes 4-5

"Well can I do 10 minutes a few times a day... Oh wait, the machine shut off"

(LILY, try to keep pedaling at at least 40 rpm!)

Minutes 6-8

"Um, my heart rate is not really doing anything here..."

(YEAH, OK Lily, that is not really the point)

Minutes 9-10

"I think that 10 minutes is enough. I should ice after, right?"

Oh the joy of PT... I can't wait to see what happens tomorrow.

 


Staying Steady - part two

No one really tells you what you can do, but you are told what you cannot do.

You cannot put weight on your right leg for about 8 weeks.

You cannot run.  Ever. Again.

You cannot start any kind of weight bearing physical therapy until week six.

You cannot keep your brace unlocked while you sleep.

You cannot take your brace off unless you are doing physical therapy.

What about what I can do?  Well - do not worry about that now.  That is what I was told.

Well, that is not good enough for me.  I worry - I always worry about things, and when it comes to my health and well-being, I am going to worry.

I worry about making sure that I stretch my hip flexors and IT band.  I worry that I won't get enough exercise, and that all of my due diligence what I have worked on for years will completely dissipate.  I worry that I am going to completely go out of my mind sitting around all day long.  

There are small victories that happen each and every day, and that is what I have learned to hold on to - along with those victories are set backs as well.  An accidental slip meant weight shifted to my right leg.  Almost falling down a flight of stairs meant I placed weight on my right foot to balance.  Slowly, slowly, and things will hopefully fall (no pun intended) into place...

 


Staying Steady - part one

Rain, snow, ice, sleet, puddles, steps, sidewalks, cobblestones.  These are all things that have put an undeniable fear in me.  Welcome to life on crutches.  And it gets better - I am on crutches and not able to put any weight on my right leg for fear of ruining the intricate surgery my doctor recently performed to regrow the cartilage in my knee.

This is not my first adventure on these stilt-like walking apparatuses.  I have been on them several times before for this same knee, but my previous adventures where no where near as daring as this one.  Non-weight bearing for eight weeks is a challenge, and even more so for someone who tends to be very physically active.  I am used to waking up around 4:45am and hitting the gym to teach bootcamp classes and workout with my trainer.  That will not be happening for a while...That being said, I do not see my situation as an excuse to sit on my ass, feel sorry for myself, and let things go.

I have learned that simply getting around is a workout in itself.  Walking (hopping) around brings up my heart rate to almost the same level as power walking on an incline, and holding up my body on crutches throughout the day is a serious upper body exercise.  Hands, forearms, shoulders, and triceps cry out to me at the end of everyday in ways that have never happened before.  They all contract to steady my body as I move forward, sideways, and backwards in a delicate and slow balancing act just so that my right leg will not make any contact with the floor at any point in time.  These muscles contract even more in anticipation of stairs or ice outside, and exhaustion sets in once the danger passes.

Physical therapy, physical activity, and physical exhaustion are regular parts of my daily routine, however perhaps the most important in understanding that part of my leg's healing process is rest. Simple rest.  The pure act of healing is to be underestimate for the weeks to come.


Microfracture Surgery

It is not the first time I have had surgery, and it is certainly not the first time that I have had knee surgery (the fourth to be exact).  However, knee surgery is in a category by itself.  In many ways it is one of the most difficult kinds of surgeries that I know of.  It is more difficult than heart surgery.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Before you start calling me crazy, think about it a little bit.  First, I am talking about my own circumstances, as that is all I know.  When I had my open heart surgery, I (like most heart patients) was told to get up and walk around.  There is a fear that if you lie flat for too long you are at a greater risk for pneumonia.  Knee surgery?  Forget it.  I was told and am presently being told to stay off my fee, or more specifically, my foot.  You see for the next 6 wks I cannot not any weight on my right leg.  No weight AT ALL.  People have had this surgery done - NBA players Jason Kidd and Chris Webber and Olympic Skier Bode Miller.

I challenge you to do this for 24 hrs.  Take a shower and put no weight on one of your legs.  Try walking around on crutches and carrying a cup of coffee at the same time.  Well, let's just say it doesn't really work.  Now with heart surgery, I could not really carry heavy things, but I could at least bring a cup of coffee from the kitchen to the living room.

So back to the knee... microfracture surgery is a procedure where tiny holes are drilled into the bone closest to where cartilage is missing from the knee.  The goal is for the bone marrow to drain out of the hole and form a blood clot.  This clot along with your own stem cells is supposed to create new cartilage. Yes, I said your OWN STEM CELLS PEOPLE so do not go running around crazy bent out of shape about the stem cell thing - it is an amazing scientific achievement developed by Dr. Richard Steadman who is a knee surgeon in the Southwest. 

So after 6 weeks of not being able to put any weight on my leg, things should be sorted out (we hope...) However it will be a while before I know anything, months in fact.  5 weeks to go, and I am sure that there will be ups and downs. The downs happen when I (or the crutches slip) and fear runs through my entire body and I start to wonder if I have just messed everything up.  Or when I am lying still with the hip to ankle Bledsoe brace on my leg and I turn on my side and hear a small crunch in my knee and start to wonder if the clot is dissolving.  It is not a stress-free recovery.  We will see happens several months from now.


Frequent Patient Card

I should be used to it by now... the waiting, the anticipation, the news, the no news, the anxiety, and perhaps most prominent of all, the frustration.  Yes, after all of my numerous visits, countless tests, blood draws, scans, xrays, MRIs, I still hold out hope that the next time it will be different.  But more often than not, I am disappointed.

I am a repeat customer at my hospital.  If any one of my doctors spent time reading over my chart, they would see that I am an excellent client - good for them, bad for me.  Three knee surgeries, stroke, open-heart surgery, pneumonia, all within in the past 6 years.  Pretty good stuff, right, and for someone who has not even reached the age of 40.  And lucky me, I managed to do something to my knee again, two days ago.

Not just a little something, but something so painful that I am unable to put weight down on my leg. So painful that it keeps me up at night, and so painful that just looking at stairs causes panic.  You might say, well I am a klutz or I need to take better care of myself.  That is the irony of it all - low blood pressure, no smoking, and a fitness instructor, so stuff like this should just not happen.

But let's get back to the doctors, and my frequent "shopping" card at my hospital.  It takes very little for a doctor to look at my chart and see that when I am calling and asking a question, I am not trying to be difficult, but simply looking for a response.  I do not think that it is too much to ask that I receive a response in 24 hours.  So when I called my orthopedic doctor a while back and left a message that I was in a considerable amount of pain and it would be helpful to have the results, I was less than thrilled when I had not heard anything by the next day.  I called back almost 48 hours later and was told that in order to find out my MRI results I would have to speak to radiology, and my orthopedic doctor would be given another message but that he was really busy (yes, I am aware of this, the first time I met with him I waited in the office for 2 1/2 hours...)  Radiology told me they would not give me the results as my doctor needed to give them to me, and so I was being bounced around like a ping-pong ball.  Oh, as far as my pain goes, they told me to increase the Advil and I could come in for a cortisone shot.  Um, no thanks.  I have had one of those (2 in fact) and they don't work.  Neither, for that matter, does the Advil... And I informed them that I really looked forward to coming in and waiting to be seen.  It just rocks.

I suddenly was reminded of 2006 and the preparation for my heart surgery.  I was not given direct answers, and often the answer that most people agreed upon was a run around response.  So, I consider myself an "expert" in the medical system, and I am continually disappointed.  There should be some kind of points card for frequent visitors (patients) at hospitals.  You know, those of us who unfortunately are more familiar with some aspects of the medical care system than our own doctors are.

I know that my circumstances are by no means unique.  Sadly, my situation (the lack of response, apathy, and wait time) probably happens to most people.  Why is it that when a doctor treats patient with respect that it is cause for celebration?  Or when a patient is seen within 5-10 minutes of the scheduled appointment it is considered "on time"?  Yes, there are many other variables at play here, and I am well aware of these (patients can be late too etc), but as a frequent patient I think that expectations and outcomes should be higher. 


It is in the bag...

There are those moments, and they seem to occur at the most inopportune times.  The middle of the night, the middle of a meeting, or when I am teaching a fitness class.  I start to think about the guest list.  Do we have everyone counted?  Did everyone really receive an invitation?  What about the people who never RSVPd?  Did they actually even receive their invitation?  And those gift bags... the ones that we are going to leave in the hotel rooms.  What about those?  They have to be just right, and that is why the UPS truck has been making daily stops at our apartment.  No, not with wedding gifts but with box upon box of items that will go into the bags for the guests.  I probably wrote down the items to be placed in the gift bags at least 15 times, with little (if any) variation each time.  And truth be told, I am sure that I will do it again!

So after a ton of feedback from friends and family I compiled the list for the gift bags and the candy bar...

What, you ask, what do I plan on actually putting into those gift bags???  Well, I want something that I would want in a gift bag.  What would I want to see if I opened up a bag after a flight across the country to a wedding???

I would probably want to have some kind of energy bar in case I did not have time to eat...

Clif-bar
 

Larabars
Since I love to run, I would want to have a map of the Charles River so that I knew how far I was going...

Crmap
(Image from Marathon Sports)

I would probably want something to munch on after that run...

Trail-mix
(Image from gotribe.com)

and would of course need to be hydrated!

PS_Product_Group_One_smlr
(Image from from Nestle Waters) 

And because I would be in town for a wedding, I would need to make sure I was staying awake at all times!

Starbucks-via-ready-brew
And of course... there are those simple little extras...

DSC_0253
Df-multigrain-chips_300

But these are just some ideas that have been written down dozens of times on endless pieces of paper.  I still have 3 wks to deepen my relationship with Mr. UPS!   


Flying on Fear Part One

Trapeze
 You know, it really did seem like a good idea at the time.  A great idea in fact.  I like adventures– I mean I did spend a few years working at Club Med, and still day dream about being back there doing the Crazy Signs in front of hundreds of guests every single night.  I SCUBA, I really REALLY want to go cage diving in Cape Town with Great White Sharks, and I even drank the tap water on a regular basis when I lived in Mexico.  So when my good friend Steevy asked me if I would take a Trapeze Class at the Boston Trapeze School with her, I jumped at the idea.  It sounded like a great time, a lot of fun, and a way to burn a few extra calories on a Saturday morning.  When I told her that I would do it, she seemed genuinely surprised.  “Seriously, you will really do it?  Are you just humoring me?”  I reassured her that I was not humoring fun of her, that I would in fact do it, and that we would sign up for February 13, 2010.  Done.

The weeks passed, and I told a few people what I would be up to mid- February.  If Carrie Bradshaw flew on the trapeze with the same group in a “Sex and the City” episode, I could do it too…  When I told my nephews, they thought it sounded pretty cool, and remarked that perhaps I could climb a tree as fast as they could follow my lesson.  My mother was less enthusiastic and told me that defying gravity was one of the stupidest things that I could be doing especially following a stroke and open-heart surgery.

Well, stupid or not, we made our reservation, and really there was no turning back.  The location was a bit odd.  The Boston Trapeze School is not located underneath a big top, but instead inside a furniture store - Jordan's Furniture Store.  Now I am not sure if you have ever been to Jordan's Furniture, but it is not your typical furniture store.  This is not Crate and Barrel or Pottery Barn.  No.  This particular place was like Wally World meets Willy Wonka on a few hits of LSD.  That was what Steevy and I walked into on February 13. 

When we walked into the furniture store we were greeted by the blaring sounds of music, the smell of sugar and waffle cones from the ice cream and Jelly Belly stores that were nestled right near the trapeze school, and blinding multi-colored psychedelic lights of a waterfall lightshow that was located behind the giant trapeze net.  I thought that this was a furniture store?  Yeah, and an IMAX movie theater, and a restaurant, and a Jelly Belly store, and a trapeze school. Oh, and it kind of looked like the first scene of the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy landed in Oz on top of the Wicked Witch.  It was that scary too…

After checking in with our waiver forms, lining up, and getting harness belts cinched so tightly around our waists that Steevy almost had a panic attack (she said it reminded her of her wedding dress) we were given a brief overview of what to expect.  One of our instructors (let's call him John) pointed to the platform that towered 4 stories above us and explained where to stand and where to not stand.  He pointed out that when we climbed up the stairs to the top, we were to move towards the edge of the platform, hang our toes over the edge, lean forward, stick our bellies and chest out and stand up straight. Once we had both hands on the bar (and one of the instructors was holding on to our “corset”), we were supposed to jump 6 inches off of the platform at which point another instructor  (we will call her Cindy) would let go of the corset and away we would fly.  As we were flying through the air, at another instructor’s cue (Amy), we were supposed to bring our legs up (and hook them around the bar), take our hands off (and suspend upside down while swinging), then bring our hands back off, kick forwards and backwards and forwards, and dismount with a back flip.  Yes, this was all on the very first try.  Very fitting for day 1 of the 2010 Winter Olympics.  That was it - the whole deal explained in 15 minutes to 10 people.

We were sent over to a row of chairs, and 3 people climbed up to the top at a time.  Each time 1 person came down off of the net, another person would go up.  Since I was 7th on the list, I had some time to think about what I was about to do, and I had time to watch what everyone else did.

As we sat and waited and watched the others fly, it looked so easy:  a grab of the bar, a bend in the knees, and after a little jump there was take off – the flying commenced.  After flying from one side of the net to the other instructions were given: "Bring the knees up."  "Take hands off." "Put your hands on." "Legs down." "Swing your legs forward, backward, forward, and back flip."   Seemed pretty easy, all the while flying through the air suspended by sheer muscle and will (and the safety harness just in case...)  More people flew and the line kept moving up.  And then came my turn.


Breathe, and bring your hands to your heart...

Yoga.  I am sure that that word conjures up lots of different images for people everywhere.  I still remember the first class I ever took.  It was in a hot room (about 100F), I forgot a towel, sweat dripped from every pore on my body onto an old grey sweatshirt and soaked it thru and thru.  I must have stopped 10 - 15 times to look at the clock and wonder when the hell the class was going to be over, because 90 minutes seemed like 90 minutes too long, and I could not stop my mind from thinking about everything and anything.  It was not zen, it was not peaceful, and it was definitely not something that I wanted to rush back into anytime soon.  But when I left the studio, I felt lighter (probably from the 5lbs of water that I shed), and my mind felt clearer (quite possibly from the thinking that occurred and all the thoughts that sweat out of my pores).  In any event, I figured that I needed to try it again, because I was sore the next day.  Really sore, which in my mind meant that it did something to me that my other fitness activity was not doing.  So on and off for several years I would take a class.  I listened to the instructors, each with their own philosophy on life about how each one of us should go about our own lives.  I would listen, but not pay too much attention to what each particular move really meant.  Nor would I pay much attention to the intentions of yoga.


After my stroke and heart surgery, one particular phrase took on an entirely new meaning..."Bring your hands to your heart..." Yes, every time the heart is mentioned in yoga, my mind now focuses intently on my heart.  My whole heart.  My heart that is mended, and no longer broken.  And now it is my heart that truly guides me throughout each yoga practice.  I have come to really like yoga, and when I leave class, the light clean feeling I have is because I have been able to clear my mind for 60-90 minutes (for the most part...) and really focus on thinking about nothing (except that woman three rows in front of me who can do crow, and I can't and it really pisses me off...but that is besides the point, because I am almost there).  And truth be told, yoga is a great compliment to my running, strength training and bootcamp.  It really is all about balance - which you need a lot of in yoga. 

And speaking of balance, when you are standing there, on your mat, it is important that you are comfortable when balancing.  The foundation can often come down to your comfort level (or it can for me anyway). SO now, more than ever, I have it all figured out.  I recently purchased a brand new yoga mat that will bring everything into focus - my energy, my balance, and I am pretty convinced that I will be able to master crow pose as well.

On Sunday, while perusing the aisles at SOWA, I stopped by the Lotus Pad booth to check out the mats.  I have followed her on Twitter, and checked out the website, but it is hard to know what you are buying sometimes unless you really get to see it... and I did.  These mats rocks.  They are soft, colorful, light, and the owner rocks.  The mats are reversible, so depending on your mood, you can change the color.  Kate, the owner, is fantastic, and you should really check out her blog too!  Check these mats out...you will be happy you did!
Mats2   Lotus
Kate - owner of Lotus Pad Yoga Mats

Learning to Life - lessons from a stroke

Last week I was asked to give a speech at a Bank of America Event.  After several written versions, I had the final one in hand, and gave the speech on a cool rainy afternoon.  I thought that it would be perfect for a blog post.  So here it is in it entirety (edited by Grammar Glamour)

I tend to be one of those people where more is more – the more that I have going on, the more productive I tend to be.  When there is a lull in any part of my life, all of the pieces including work, social and family are somehow affected.  I find that I bring more to each aspect when they are all in motion.  Over the course of any given day, I rush from one meeting to the next, or often in my case, one job to the next, juggling my coffee, my gym bag, my purse, and somehow making it to my final destination before feeling like I am going to collapse.  I am sure that many of you can relate to this multi-tasking induced exhaustion.

It is a challenge to go through everyday like this, and there are days when the only things that feel balanced are the two bags hanging off my arms as I jet off to work each morning.  Still, I thrive off of the energy and simply readjust the priorities if I ever feel that I’m truly losing my balance.  This wasn’t always the case and I’m thankful I now have this perspective.  Several years ago, dire circumstances forced me to reconsider my own priorities, and think long and hard about what really matters.

On July 21, 2006 – close to three years ago – I was navigating those balanced two bags back and forth between two jobs.  Former colleagues at the Harvard Business School asked me if I could come over and teach a fitness class during lunch.  Fitness was something that I did in a previous life, and I figured that I could make this happen.  I’d teach the noon class, grab a quick bite with my boyfriend after class, and then hurry back to work.  It would be a long lunch break with the fitness class included, but it was summer and a Friday afternoon. 

On our way to lunch following the class, I started to feel ill.  I stumbled, thought that I said a few words about not feeling well, and grabbed some bushes to stop myself from falling.  In a matter of seconds, I went from laughing with Hector, my boyfriend, and Erika, a long time friend of mine, to being unable to communicate at all or think clearly.  Imagine someone turned a switch in your head that stopped you from speaking.  Gone.  Off.  Finished.  That is what happened to me – and that is how I can best describe what my stroke felt like.  As surreal and confusing as it was, I remember everything form that day. 

Hector asked me his name, my name, what day it was.  Nothing came out of my mouth, as I could not respond.  Instead, I just watched him, trying to figure out what to do with the situation.  He drove me to the hospital and after I was admitted, the doctors administered a series of tests.  Almost an hour from the initial onset of the stroke, I received the news… I had a 1.5 centimeter blood clot in my head.  It stopped blood from flowing to areas of my temporal lobe, which is associated with speech.  After four days in the hospital, a cardiologist found an atrial septal defect (or an ASD), which is a hole between the left and right atria in the heart – which had been there since birth.  He concluded that this was most likely the cause of the stroke.  And several hours later I was sent home with another title to add to my list of roles … a stroke patient.  Several months later, I underwent open-heart surgery to close the hole in my heart that caused the stroke.

I scheduled the surgery during a quiet time at work.  I knew that work would be less demanding in December and I would have more time to focus on getting well following the surgery, instead of worrying about what was occurring in the office.  For four months, I busied myself planning every second of each day.  I focused on my work, my doctors’ appointments, my fitness…everything and anything that I could to avoid coming to terms with the sheer reality of the looming open heart surgery that would take me out of the day-to-day routine that I had become so accustomed to.  In my typical more is more method, I became completely and utterly frenzied during those months.

The frenzy suddenly stopped on December 12, 2006 for the surgery – and then switched to neutral for the two months that followed.  I really had no choice but to slow down my pace.  No, nothing was wrong with my heart as far as stress went, but still, I underwent open-heart surgery, and I needed rest.  I am not sure if you have ever had the luxury of taking 2 months away from your life as you know it… but it forced me to refocus and regroup my priorities.  Two months away from work, away from the daily routine of early morning fitness classes, ignoring e-mail messages at 6:30 in the morning, not thinking about what I was going to cook for dinner or who I needed to make plans with felt incredibly liberating.  While these things are important, I came to realize that life went on without immediately attending to these items that had always seemed so pressing.  In fact, life improved by letting some of these things slide.  The emails could wait until later in the day, or even tomorrow.  If I didn’t have time to plan dinner, it was easy enough to get take out or have a bowl of cereal instead of stressing myself out.  Even work went on without my constant attention, proving that while I took pride in my job, I could still do it well without always putting it first. Putting myself and Hector first freed me up to approach everything else with a calmer, happier attitude.  This realization enabled me to better balance my personal and professional life once I was healthy enough to pick up the pace.  While it didn’t happen overnight, it did happen, but unfortunately, it took a stroke and open-heart surgery for me to come to this realization.

Following the stroke and surgery, many of my friends and colleagues remarked on the change in my attitude and demeanor, and the shift in my priorities – people started to describe me as more direct, more calm, and more at ease with life in general.  Since I had experienced first hand that life was short, I learned to drop the baggage that often gets picked up as you go on living day to day.  Time is short, and each minute is important.  I needed to make the most of each one and capitalize on the time that I had.

Having a stroke at any age is devastating.  Having a stroke at 33 with no risk factors – except for that problematic hole – was mind numbing.  In fact, to this day, I am not sure that I have fully accepted what happened, let alone the severity of what could have happened, on that July day in 2006.  That aside, I have gained perspective on life and learned about prioritizing, and setting realistic attainable goals.

You might not have time to do everything, and you might not have time to do everything well.  What is most important is that YOU become a priority in your own life.  Of course, work is a priority and it is something that gives people a sense of self and worth.  Speaking for myself, I love what I do.  Years ago, I promised myself that the second I am no longer satisfied with my work, I will start to explore other options.  While it might seem terribly cliché, life is short and you really do not know what is going to happen or when it might happen to you.  When I was in the hospital following my stroke, and certainly in the months, weeks, and days leading up to my open heart surgery, I found myself questioning some of the decisions that I had made in my life, wondering if they were the right ones. I happily discovered that I did not have any regrets, and I am fortunate enough to have learned to live in the present and appreciate what I have at such a young age.  So much of living is about the balance of work, family and friends.  I think that we all have those days when work takes up more time than we might like, or perhaps family or friends are taking up all of the time, and we know in the back of our minds that we need to get back to work – but it is all about give and take.  You need to be able to find and make time for yourself, so that the other critical elements in your life will fall into place without any one part, especially your health, seriously suffering.

I am obviously going to advocate for a healthy lifestyle – it is something that I led before the stroke and surgery, and something that is even more of a priority in my life now.  I realized that even as healthy as I was, I could not control certain factors of my life – such as a congenital heart defect.  You can take this same story and relate it to work, finances and / or family.  There are just so many things that are beyond your control, and you truly have no way of knowing what is going to happen 10 minutes from now, 10 hours from now, or 10 days from now, let alone 10 years from now.  But you can ensure that whatever does end up happening, you are prepared – both mentally and physically.

What I mean is that it is important for you to have other outlets in your life that allow you to regroup.  For me, exercise and overall fitness was and is my sanity.  It takes me out of the daily grind and forces me to do something for me.  I do not bring a BlackBerry with me, because I am not exercising at 6 am for anyone but myself – I will take my phone when I go running, but only for safety purposes due to my stroke.

It is truly about balance.  I know that I continue to come back to that term – but now, more than ever, as we’re bombarded by emails on our laptops and Blackberrys, and surrounded by bleak news about the current economic situation and global events, it is entirely too easy to become consumed in the day to day and simply forget about yourself.  It is not worth it.  Trust me.  When I was lying on the gurney being wheeled off to my surgery, I was not thinking about the e-mails that I sent the days before, the change in my job description that I worked for several years to achieve, or even the hesitation I felt as I left the office knowing that I would not be back for two months.  No.  I thought about my parents, Hector, my grandmother, my sister, my nephews, and how lucky I was to have them all with me.  I seriously had planned for the worst-case scenario – which was not waking up.  But, no matter what the outcome, somehow I knew that everything would be all right because I took this extra time before my surgery to be with my family.

At the end of the day, it is not about who can respond to an email the fastest or stay at the office the longest.  In fact, I know many people who work long hours, but are far less productive than those who come in, do their work, leave around 6 pm and go home to be with their friends, their family, or simply their yoga instructor.  Let me tell you, the latter group is definitely the happiest and no doubt the healthiest.

Trust your instincts on this.  Trust yourself, put yourself first, and learn to live YOUR life and live it well.  There’s no room for regrets when you only have one chance to get it right.

   

-Lily Underwood Burns, June 30, 2009 Bank of America LEAD Speech