So this happened too.

Three weeks after my brother’s heart attack and 13 months after my own, I was back in the OR, prepped for another angioplasty, getting another stent.

Because heart disease is not a dramatic, one-time, life-altering, something-that-happened-to-me-once-isn’t-that-interesting thing. It is a lifelong, chronic illness that will strike whenever it damn well pleases. It will take what it wants. It will take what you want.

It will take. And you will give.

I wasn’t kidding when I said it has been a rough few weeks. Mike’s heart attack put me in some kind of serious funk; it was the first clue that this was about the long-haul, my whole life, never to be safe. Never to be not-sick. Never able to protect my family, no matter how many words I write.

And then there was the pain. Only when I ran. Only for the first mile or so. Not exactly in the same place, but creepily similar.

It must be in my head. There’s just no other explanation. Of course. I’m just freaked out. What distance runner doesn’t kind of lose it during taper? Who hasn’t had phantom pain and injury? Of course Mike’s heart attack is messing with my head. Don’t I have psychosomatic chest pain every time I tell my story?

Or not.

It was a recovery run two days after my 20 miler. I started out and there was that little nag. By a half mile, more. By a mile, acute. I had to stop. I walked home. And I cried all the way.

I cried because I knew, without any diagnostic test, without any radioactive isotopes or EKGs or CTs, without any wires, tubes, cameras, or balloons inserted into my heart. I was sick again. I would not be running a marathon, this weekend or ever. I would never have another baby.

I am sick, and I am going to stay that way. My life has gone from no limits to know limits.

I’m fine, for now, thanks to aggressive work by my doctor, who had to use his 3D camera inside my LAD to find the problem (75% blockage), angioplasty, and a shiny new stent. (I will admit the camera was cool, and he was pretty excited to be using it. He told me the next day he presented my case “in conference.” A medical marvel, I tell you. It was also at this conference when all the cardiologists agreed I should not run distances greater than 10K again.)

I have some residual pain that is disappointing to both me and my cardiologist. He just inspected all my arteries. They are clear. It has been 10 days. It must be soreness from the angioplasty. Inflammation. He can’t really come up with a good explanation.

Neither can I, but neither can I forget about it. It’s with me, all the time.

It takes. And I give.

Yes, I’m smiling here. My mental health has been on a roller coaster, and I remember that from last time. The first emotion is relief — knowing what was wrong, knowing I was not crazy. Then happy to be alive, grateful. Then accepting the truth, and with that, anger and loss and pain. I know the signs, I know the drill. I’ll make it. Again.


  1. Laurie Kern says:

    You are phenomenal. In many ways.

    I cannot imagine what you have been through….for yourself, your family, your parents and siblings, husband and beautiful boys. But your words are powerful, meaningful and hopefully reach many who are going through something similar, or may know others who are, or who just need to be armed with knowledge in the future.

    Hang in there Jen – those words sound feeble….but they are heartfelt.

  2. ann mathison says:

    Parents hate to see their children or their children’s friends hurting. I hate that you and Mike have this problem! I am so thankful that you were smart enough to seek treatment quickly. Geroge & I wish you well always and hope and pray that both of you can continue your lives with no more negative episodes. Peace to you and to your husband and family!

    ps Write a book! Your blog is fascinating and inspiring as are you.

  3. Carolyn Tonneson says:

    Jen–another beautifully written story…but one I wish you didn’t have to tell. As you know, we were far away when this happened (Russia, no less!) and I felt so helpless. All I could do is pray for your safety and recovery. I was scared. I just couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that this was happening a second time. I wanted to be home where I could “do something”…take care of the boys, at least. I laid awake, and prayed and prayed, the first night when we got the news that you were back in the hospital.

    Now, reading your account of those days, my prayers are those of thankfulness…and my tears are those of relief…and of sadness–that you have to live with this disease at such a young age. And maybe those tears are also some that remind me that I, too, live with a chronic disease that can rear up and bite me at any time. Not until I read this post today did I think of that commonality between us…not a common thread that I wanted to share with you!

    You truly are an inspiration, Jen. I agree with Ann…you should write a book!

    Love you!!

  4. Oh, Jen. I’m so sorry to hear of your recent adventure back in hospital.

    “My life has gone from no limits to know limits.” That smack upside the head is reality talking to you. (I just hate that part!) The smack means another reminder that heart disease is progressive and chronic. They can stent us and bypass us and zap our wonky electrical circuits but they can’t address what caused our initial problem in the first place. Sigh….

    That pain you describe after your angioplasty might be what cardiac nurses call “stretching pain”. I had that too (for weeks!) and it was very distressing.

    Please take care, especially on this current roller coaster of yours.

  5. Your latest story is another one of comfort for many of us. When we suffer recurring pains, we think that a) we are the only ones to have that happen, and b) it must be something that I did, ate, forgot, etc. that caused it. I’m sure that your story will show many people that what they are experiencing does happen to many others as well. Thank you for honestly putting it into words.

  6. Susan Schwartz says:

    Dear Jen, What a roller coaster of a ride you have been on. I’m so sorry to hear about this. But, I know deep deep down that you have the tenacity and strong presence of being to live each day to its fullest whatever might be thrown your way. Please know that your Oxford yoga community is thinking of you and sending our intentions of hope, love, & healing of mind and body. We will be here for you when you are ready. Until then, my yogi friend, take one moment at a time and love the moment you are in even if your mind tells you otherwise. And, above all, be extra gentle and loving to yourself. Namaste, Susan

  7. Jen,
    You need to research Paleo lifestyle.

  8. Jen-

    I am just catching up on your blog. I am so sorry you had to have this done again. I know what an emotional roller coaster this is. I had my return trip in June. I am so glad you listened to your intuition!


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