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  • Writer's picturePat Birnie

What does it take to turn your world upside down?

Updated: Feb 11, 2022

Well that may be a bit dramatic, but aren't titles all about grabbing your attention?

Here we go again, with another post about being healthy, but this one has a twist. When the last few decades have been all about healthy choices (definitely using the 80/20 rule - I can also have fun!) perhaps one can get a bit 'cocky'? Perhaps I've been a little braggy with the 'make these choices and you too can be a healthy active 60++ year old'? But what if a wrench gets thrown into the mix? What if all of a sudden you learn you don't have squeaky clean arteries and a heart that a 20 year old would envy?

If you haven't guessed yet, well that's me over the past few months. I have struggled with the possibility that I have some degree of heart disease, wondered how the heck this happened, been angry about the whole situation and finally accepted it, learned a couple of lessons and even managed to find gratitude.

How did this all start? Well, I made a much overdue decision to find a new respirologist. I have had asthma my entire life. Through the wonders of modern medicine I was quite well managed for decades, able to live the active life that I chose. About 10 years ago I started to deteriorate and accepted this as a natural part of aging. I also felt that that my long time doc should be considering retirement. I would repeatedly tell him of the issues I was having and was told that my breathing function was unchanged. Ok, so I have great lung capacity (thanks 40 years of cardio) but I cough all the time, wake up multiple times a night coughing or wheezing - is this just a natural and unavoidable progression? Finally, although it took several years, I asked for a referral to a new specialist and WOW - why did I wait?! (Lesson #1: if you feel your physician is not serving you well, don't hesitate to act, because.....)

I saw a new respirologist in July; he listened to me, changed things up & within a month I'd had about a 60% improvement in symptoms! (Lesson #2: I am more important than the feelings of someone I'll probably never see again and who isn't doing his job)

Now, for the downside. Seeing a new, young progressive doctor meant a barrage of tests; it's his professional responsibility to be thorough and look for any other underlying issues. So, I learned a new saying that's used in the medical system: "If you go looking for something, chances are you'll find something". I suppose that's particularly true with a 66 year old body!! And so it began; a few suspicious things were picked up on the first scan, leading to further referrals, multiple tests and a full calendar of medical appointments.

All is well, but I was shocked to learn that I have high cholesterol (borderline, but still....) and early atherosclerosis. What the what?? ME? How could this be? Three years ago, we found out that my husband's cholesterol was creeping up. Our already 'pretty healthy' life was taken up another notch. These are the changes we made, which did result in a reduction in hubby's cholesterol in under 3 months!

  • Our diet was changed to 80-90% vegetarian including loads of beans and lentils

  • alcohol limited (mostly) to weekends

  • delicious foods like cheese are enjoyed sparingly (sad face)

  • steel cut oats for breakfast a few days a week

  • daily dose of Fibergy (this product actually pulls the cholesterol from your system)

  • continued daily dose of BiOmega for healthy, safe fish-oil (good fats that help reduce cholesterol

  • daily consumption of other cholesterol lowering foods such as avocado, walnuts, and olive oil.

This is my lunch most days, for goodness sake!

After all this how could MY cholesterol be increasing? My first reaction was shame and a bit of denial. I was angry and also felt somewhat of a failure. After a few weeks I realized that this is just another opportunity for personal growth. (Lesson #3: some things are hereditary and out of our control, but more important when you feel a little 'smug' about yourself, the universe is just waiting to kick you off your pedestal!)

Thankfully I have great support, including a wonderful friend/Naturopathic doctor and my recently acquired cardiologist; they helped me come to terms with all of this. I know you may be thinking that I should just get over myself, but honestly this has been a challenge.

There has been a lot of gratitude gained from this:

  • I am so grateful to be in Canada and not have to worry once about the huge medical bill I'd have accumulated the past several months.

  • I am so grateful that I made the change to a new respirologist and be breathing so much better.

  • I am grateful that I have the knowledge and experience to continue with my healthy lifestyle, along with prescribed meds. Knowledge is power guys!

  • I am grateful that I happened on to this journey. My healthy active mother did pass suddenly from a massive heart attack. She was 88 years old, and had lived a full and active life, but I can't help but think if she'd had some of the health screening I've had, she may have been with us a little longer.

This has been such an enlightening as well as humbling experience. The best part is that every experience like this broadens our compassion and understanding for others. When my passion is to help others live their healthiest lives, this growth goes a long way.

Feedback & comments are always welcome at

Pat xo

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