by Carolyn Thomas ♥ @HeartSisters…
I have never had breast cancer, and I don’t write about breast cancer (a recent exception here). But I noticed soon after launching this Heart Sisters blog that a surprising number of women with breast cancer were reading, subscribing and responding to my blog articles on women’s heart disease. One of my favourites in this group was author and breast cancer activist Nancy Stordahl, who blogs about breast cancer over at Nancy’s Point. Nancy and I have agreed over the years that the traumatic experience of facing a catastrophic diagnosis is shared by many, no matter what that medical condition may be.
So when Nancy invited me to participate in her annual 2020 Summer Blogging Challenge, I was pleased to oblige one of my favourite bloggers by answering the eight questions that she asked about my blog: . .
1. Who are you? Tell us about you and your blog.
“I live on the beautiful west coast of Canada in Victoria, just down the road from my darling 5-year old granddaughter, Everly Rose. (And yes, it’s all true what they say about grandbabies being the BEST THING EVER!) I spent my entire 35+ year career in the public relations field working in corporate, government and non-profit sectors – ranging from Mercedes-Benz to the Salvation Army. In all those years, I never had a job I didn’t love. But in 2008, I somehow survived what doctors call the “widow maker” heart attack, despite being misdiagnosed with acid reflux and sent home from the Emergency Department with textbook heart attack symptoms.
“I started my blog Heart Sisters the following year. At the time, I’d been presenting my free 90-minute ‘Pinot & Prevention’ public talks on women’s heart health, based on what I’d learned along with 45 other heart patients attending the annual WomenHeart Science & Leadership Symposium for Women With Heart Disease at Mayo Clinic. I launched this small 3-page website just to help answer frequent questions about how to book one of my talks. Then I started adding articles, one by one. Lots of articles! Most were about emerging research on women’s heart disease, or the most common questions my audiences were asking, or what’s known as the cardiology gender gap (particularly important to me because of my own experience being misdiagnosed in mid-heart attack, which happens far more to women than it does if you were a man presenting with my symptoms).
2. What has been your biggest blogging challenge during this pandemic, and how have you been tackling it (or trying to)?
“The COVID- 19 pandemic hit us all out of the blue. Suddenly, almost overnight, everything was being cancelled – from school to dental appointments to the National Hockey League (a serious issue here in Canada!) My blogging challenge hit overnight, too. My passion for writing about women and heart disease seemed to evaporate. Week after week, I was simply unable to write anything except articles on COVID-19. Heart patients are both at significant risk for catching this virus and far more likely to have really bad outcomes if we do.
“And then George Floyd was murdered by a white police officer, and I stopped writing abut COVID-19. Just. Like. That. But lately, I’ve drifted back to writing about heart stuff. . .”
3. What is something you’ve accomplished with your blog that you’re most proud of?
“I write for other women living with heart disease, but I’m also so pleased to see that a growing number of physicians, nurses, paramedics, cardiac researchers and other healthcare professionals now read and share what I’m writing about.
“But something I’m most proud of here on Heart Sisters is the comprehensive 8,000-word, patient-friendly, jargon-free glossary that I’ve created – a translation of complicated medical terms, abbreviations and acronyms that you’ll hear tossed casually at you around the cardiac ward – almost as if they think you’ve been to medical school.”
4. Share two of your best blogging tips.
- Grammar and spelling count. Otherwise, it just looks like you don’t care.
- Factual accuracy counts even more.
5. What is one of your blogging goals this year?
“I have no blogging goals this year. I mostly concentrate on my immediate goals for this afternoon. . . e.g. ‘Take A Nap!’
“Sometimes, my blog readers – perhaps worried about my lack of clear goals – tell me what I should write about. For example, a reader once asked me: ‘Why don’t you ever write about congenital heart defects?’
“That really annoyed me. (This is MY blog, after all, and I’m not running the frickety-frackin’ Encyclopedia Britannica here!) But the very next day – entirely coincidentally! – I heard from a reader named Aletha who shared her dramatic personal story on this precise topic. It was so compelling that I immediately asked her permission to write about her in my post called When Babies With Congenital Heart Defects Grow Up.
“Thank you, Aletha – and thank you, Annoying Reader who suggested that topic in the first place. Seriously, thanks. . . “
6. When things get hard, what keeps you blogging, even if not regularly?
“On the days when my ongoing cardiac symptoms (from coronary microvascular disease, a disorder affecting the smallest of the heart’s blood vessels) are really bothering me, there’s no writing going on. Minimal breathing maybe, but mostly just enough to maintain consciousness. . . But on a good day, I can often sit down and write non-stop for two hours! My public relations friends still tease me that this is what happens when a PR person has a heart attack: we just keep writing and speaking and looking stuff up – because that’s all we know! I believe I’m hitting the right note when my readers tell me that because of what they’ve just read, they now feel less alone.”
7. What is a dream you have for your blog?
“Every wild and crazy dream I may have ever had for Heart Sisters actually came true back in 2015 when I was contacted by the executive editor at Johns Hopkins University Press in Baltimore (JHUPress, the oldest academic book publisher in North America!) Her exact words were: ‘We love your blog. We love how you write! Have you ever considered writing a book based on your Heart Sisters blog articles?’
“One of the absolutely best things about this blog-turned-book adventure was working with the very wonderful JHUPress senior production editor, Deborah Bors – who skillfully navigated me through every step (and also reminded me how often I used the word “very”!) In return, I helped to educate Debby on Canadian traditions like Tim Horton maple dips.
“The book that Debby helped me write became A Woman’s Guide to Living With Heart Disease. (I vehemently disagreed with JHUPress marketing staff over that title, by the way – and still wish I hadn’t caved in). It was published in 2017 – as Amazon’s #1 New Release in the Medicine/Public Health category! The amazing rock star cardiologist Dr. Martha Gulati, Division Chief of Cardiology at the University of Arizona School of Medicine, generously wrote the most beautiful foreword I’ve ever seen.”
8. Share a link to a favorite post you’ve written that you want more people to read.
(Before I respond, I want to mention that Nancy’s pick as her own favourite breast cancer advocacy post as part of this 2020 Summer Blogging Challenge is a remarkable article called When a Cancer Billboard Is Offensive. As a result of outraged reactions from her readers and on social media, Mayo Clinic took down the offensive public billboard she wrote about. Imagine the power of one woman’s blog post to make that happen!)
“A favourite post: Whether you’re a woman living with breast cancer or with heart disease, my post called Welcome to Your New Country seems to sum up much of the distressing post-diagnosis psychological angst that so many of us suffer in the early days, weeks and months – the kind that, unfortunately, healthcare professionals seem remarkably uninterested in mentioning to us. Feeling like you’ve somehow been forcibly deported to a strange country you have never even wanted to visit turns out to be remarkably common among the freshly-diagnosed.
“Second favourite post: I still laugh out loud reading this post about the time a national TV news crew showed up in my kitchen to interview me about hospital food!”
Thank you to my lovely blogging buddy Nancy Stordahl for inviting me to participate in her annual Summer Blogging Challenge. Please go check out her own Challenge list!
NOTE FROM CAROLYN: If you’re looking for A Woman’s Guide to Living with Heart Disease, you can save 20% off the book’s cover price if you order it directly from Johns Hopkins University Press (use their code HTWN). Or ask for it at your local library, your favourite independent bookshop, or order it online (paperback, hardcover or e-book) at Amazon.
Q: What do YOU look for in the blogs that you enjoy reading?
– How this Heart Sisters blog was turned into a book
Plus these blog articles inspired by Nancy Stordahl’s site…
– Unlikely companions: grief and gratitude
–Recuperation and a red leather chair