Last Friday was National Wear Red Day, an intentional
opportunity to wear a red dress as a symbol of
awareness of the fact that heart disease is the number
one killer of women in America.
I didn’t wear a red dress, but I did get my very first
I wish I could say that I had planned it that way.
The truth is that I was experiencing chest pain, a
terrible squeezing sensation in my left shoulder and
left arm, and an alarming tingling running up my neck.
I headed into Urgent Care. The next few days brought a
series of tests involving all kinds of electrodes,
ultrasounds, and my personal favorite, running on the
treadmill. I’m still waiting for the results.
I’m a 43-year-old woman, fit and active, with low blood
pressure, a stupendously healthy diet, and zero history
of cardiac problems in my family. I’ve never smoked, I
drink a small glass of wine most evenings, I have low
cholesterol, and I’ve been meditating for over twenty
years. You’d be hard pressed to find a woman with a
lower degree of risk for any kind of heart disease.
Yet, here I am, hanging out in the cardiologist’s
office with a bunch of 75-year-olds.
My doctor is my stepfather’s cardiologist. I know he’s
good because he has done about a dozen surgeries and
procedures to keep my stepfather alive and kicking over
the last 20 years. Dr. Toren is a great guy. Still, I
never quite imagined I would need to visit him myself.
It’s been rather disconcerting, to say the least.
But it’s also given me an opportunity to think about my
heart in a whole new way. I am appreciating this
fantastic organ and its ability to beat over a billion
times in an average lifetime without (much) assistance.
Like most healthy people, I’ve taken it for granted.
I’ve allowed it to go about its work, and only in rare
circumstances when it decided to pound-middle school
crush walking past me, parachute not opening fully
while skydiving, snatching children out of harm’s
way-did I ever really pay attention to it.
Poor heart. So unappreciated.
Not anymore. In the last few days, I have felt every
beat of my heart. I note the blood coursing through my
arteries with every pulse. Becoming hyperaware of my
heart’s magnificence has resulted in an indescribable
sense of awe. I’ve been greatly humbled.
I’d always sort of figured that I was in control of my
body. I’ve been certified as a personal fitness
trainer, and I know a lot about how to change your
shape or size or strength through exercise. I’ve been
healthy enough to actually think that I was the one in
charge. How ridiculous of me to believe that my body
will do exactly what I want it to. It’s been running
the show since before I was born.
Anyone suffering from any kind of illness, injury or
decreased ability already knows this. I am guilty of
ignoring my body on the most important
level-recognizing its power over me. In my continuing
effort to connect body, mind and spirit, I’ve forgotten
that the three don’t always share equal billing.
Empedocles, a philosopher and scientist who lived in
Sicily in the 400s BC, was the first to state in any
sort of medical way that the heart was the origin of
human emotions. I guess we’re supposed to believe,
based on current research, that this is completely
inaccurate. Our emotions are actually connected to our
But really, it just isn’t as satisfying to think of
love as being a head thing. Our hearts seem more
poetic, more romantic, more likely to be swept away by
the sheer force of nature that is love. We understand
what it means and how it feels to be brokenhearted. We
feel an ache in our hearts in quite a literal way. A
headache is nothing like a heartache.
We use a lot of language that calls attention to this
link between our hearts and all that is good, true,
beautiful, and just. Whether we’re listening to our
heart, opening our heart, connecting to our heart,
trusting our heart, or simply living to our heart’s
content, we regard it as the seat of the soul and the
source of tremendous compassion and tenderness.
Women are supposed to have a pretty good handle on all
this, and that’s why I believe that we haven’t really
considered women as being susceptible to heart disease.
We’re great at picking up on the importance of being
aware of breast cancer, but when it comes to the heart,
we want to believe that we are somehow protected from
what we have come to think of as the stressed-out man’s
disease. Or the fat person’s disease. Or the
don’t-pay-any-attention-to-your-health disease. We hope
that by simply being aware of our emotions, our habits
and their effect on our bodies that we’re somehow
I guess what I’m trying to say is this: if you have a
heart, then you are at risk. It’s that simple. It’s
terribly important to do all the right things, but even
then, you’ve still got this ticker that needs tending.
You need to know your risks, and you know to know how
to reduce them.
I’m not sure what I’m going to learn about my heart
when all is said and done, but I’ve already learned an
extremely valuable lesson. My heart may be open, it
may be full of love, but that doesn’t mean it’s
I’m hoping for some seriously good news for Valentine’s
Day this year. I’ll be waiting, and wearing red.
Maya Talisman Frost is a mind masseuse. Her work has inspired thinkers in over 80 countries around the world. She serves up a unique blend of clarity, comfort and comic relief in her free weekly ezine, the Friday Mind Massage. To subscribe, visit http://www.massageyourmind.com.