What it really feels like to have a heart attack?
Rolanda Perkins, 43, TennesseeOne Sunday night, I sensed a trugging pain in my chest while mopping the kitchen floor. I assumed it was indigestion that would pass and eventually went to bed. But at 3:30 a.m., I woke up, and it felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest—I could barely breathe. My boyfriend urged me to go to the emergency room. When we got there, I told the nurse my symptoms and she immediately tool me to the triage doctor, who gave me an EKG. His diagnosis? I’d had a heart attack. Suddenly doctors, orderlies, and nurses were swarming around me. One doctor handed me a nitroglycerin tablet; another told me a cardiologist was going to “go in” and check my heart for blockages. I was terrified.
The next thing I knew, I was walking up in the recovery room after what I later found out was an angiogram, a procedure in which your heart is injected with dye and x-rayed so doctor can examine your blood vessels. “They didn’t find any damage or blockage,” the doctor said. “Thank you, Jesus,” I thought.
Because I exercised regularly and had no family history of heart disease, no one could figure out why I’d had a heart attack. Still, once I was discharged, I made big lifestyle changes. Now I take a baby aspirin every day to prevent blood clots that could travel to my heart, run regularly, and check the nutritional panel on the side of food packages to be sure I’m keeping my intake of sodium and saturated fat low. Recently I was chosen by the American Heart Association to be a national spokeswoman for its Go Red for Women campaign. Hopefully by sharing my story with others, I can help save a few lives.
What it really feels like to run a marathon?
Melissa Kelz, 36, IllinoisThe morning of the race, I got to the starting line and saw thousands of other runners. When the gun went off, I thought I’d either throw up or wet my pants because I was so nervous, so I tried to focus on making it to the finish line.
About three miles in, felling better than I thought I would, I decided to push myself. Seven miles after that, the sweat was pouring off me and my heart was pounding wildly. When I got tired and felt like I couldn’t go any farther, I played mind games with myself, breaking the race into smaller segments. “I just have to get to the third traffic light on the right” or, “I only need to make it to 33rd Street.” By mile 20, I was exhausted, but the cheering spectators screaming my name (printed on my shirt) kept me going. As the miles passed, I started picturing myself on the front of a Wheaties box. Then, after running on all-flat terrain, T got to mile 25, where there’s a big hill. As planned, my friend Rachel jumped into the race at that point and ran with me. To distract me until the end was in sight, we sang Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary” and Donna Summer’s “She Works Hard for the Money” and talked about what we’d do if we won the lottery. As the finish line neared, I was bone-tired, my toes were throbbing, but I sprinted anyway. Tears of joy streamed down my face as I crossed it (in less than five hours, I might add!). I felt so unbelievably accomplished.
What it really feels like to go through IVF?
Moneesha Garcia, 36, TexasAfter two years of failed fertility treatments, including taking hormones to regulate my cycle, my husband and I decided to try in vitro fertilization (IVF). I had to prepare my body for the procedure by swallowing up to eight horse-size hormone pills and giving myself three shots a day to stimulate my egg production. After a month of this, I went to the fertility specialist. He put me under general anesthesia and, using a thin needle, retrieved my eggs. Then he sent them to a lab, where they got paired with my husband’s sperm. Two days later, we were back at the doctor’s office to have two of these newly created embryos transferred to my uterus (they froze the rest for future use). Although it was relatively painless—the embryos were carefully placed through a narrow tube—they gave me a sedative for my nerves.
Several days later, it was time to find out whether I was pregnant. I had my blood drawn for the pregnancy test at 8:30 in the morning, then went to work until my husband could come pick me up. We couldn’t wait until we got home to call, so we did it from the car. My heart was beating so loudly, I handed me cell to my husband. When I heard him say, “No? Okay, thank you,” I burst into tears. Crushed that it hadn’t worked, we chose to adopt a baby boy, Diego, from Guatemala. But when he was 18 months old, we wanted to try for a second child. So we turned to our frozen embryos. This time the procedure was a success! We found out our son Dominic was on the way. I couldn’t believe it. Now we have two miracles in out lives. It’s true: Everything does happen for a reason.
What it really feels like to get a colonoscopy?
AnnMarie Harris, 30, New YorkMy grandma died of colon cancer, and I’d been having unexplainable stomach pains for a year, so I knew I needed to schedule a colonoscopy. Around 5 the night before the procedure, I took a laxative and sipped my first of many glasses (one every 15 to 20 minutes for several hours) of a foul-tasting orange liquid, The combo’s purpose was to flush out my system so my colon would be completely clean. It worked; half an hour later, I went running to the bathroom—something I did countless times over the next five hours. With a gallon of liquid in my body, I felt incredibly bloated. Finally, puffy and exhausted, I went to sleep.
The next morning, my parents took me to the gastroenterologist. I got undressed and lay on the table on my side with my knees tucked in slightly. Then the doctor explained what would happen: He’d put me under and insert a lighted scope into my body and through my colon so he could look at it on a big screen and spot potentially cancerous growths. The doctor didn’t find a thing, and I didn’t feel a thing—except relief…and hunger!
What it really feels like to be diagnosed with cancer?
Monique Klugman, 33, New YorkAt a routine physical, my primary care physician happened to notice a lump in my neck. “I want you ti get this biopsied immediately,” she said. “It may be nothing, but I’d like to take a closer look.” Within a few days, I had a sonogram and biopsy. Then the endocrinologist called me at home: It was thyroid cancer.
I was beyond shocked. I had just turned 30, and there was so much I wanted to do. I didn’t have much time for the news to set in, though, because I had to catch a train to Philadelphia for a wedding. And though I put on a brace face throughout the ceremony, inside I was a mess, watching the bride and groom and thinking. “I’m not going to have kids.” But I vowed I wasn’t going to let this get the best of me.
When I got back, I had a consultation with a surgeon, who said I’d need my thyroid removed. During the surgery, the doctors looked to see if the cancer had spread. Thankfully it had traveled to only one lymph node. I recuperated for a week, then began my follow-up regimen. I had to eat a special diet for a month, and I started taking medication, which made my body literally emit radiation, so I couldn’t be around people for five days afterward.
Then came the moment of truth: full-body scans to see if the cancer was gone. It was. For had to have blood work every three months and sonograms every six to check for recurrences. I’ll be on thyroid medication for the rest of my life—may that be a good, long time.
What it really fells like to have gastric bypass surgery?
Brandee Cartwright-Jones, 34, IndianaTwo nights before the surgery, weighing 309 pounds, I enjoyed the foods I knew I’d never eat again, like Twinkies, chocolate cake, and gyros. The morning of the surgery, I hospital with my mom by my side. Before we went in, we took a few photos—shots I prayed would be the last of me in this huge, obese body.
As I undressed and had the pre-op checkup, I felt kind of numb—even though I’d been anxiously awaiting this surgery for three years (the time it took for my insurance to approve it). When they wheeled me into the operating room, it finally hit me: This wasn’t some diet I could cheat on; this was the real deal. They were going to cut my stomach, make it smaller, and reattach it so I’d feel full after eating just 1 cup of food. When I woke up from the operation, I lifted my gown and saw a swollen, red, fluid-filled cut with stitches that ran vertically 10 and a half inches up the middle of my body. “I took like I’m in a horror movie,” I thought. When the pain medication wore off, my abs hurt really badly every time I moved. After the surgery, I didn’t want to overeat; I never even felt tempted to test how much food I could hold in my new belly. By the time I left the hospital five days later, I’d already shed about 30 pounds. Though my weight loss wasn’t noticeable, it was the motivation I’d been hoping for. I wanted to do whatever I could to help it along.
The next day, I began walking, increasing my distance each time I headed out. Six months after surgery, I was down to 180 pounds. Thirteen months later, I reached my current weight of 129. Sometimes I miss indulging in food, but I wouldn’t trade anything for the healthy person I’ve become.