My Health Heroes Aren’t Athletes

SuperheroHealth

The two people who inspire me the most to stay active and healthy aren’t professional athletes or models. They aren’t yogis or taekwondo black belts.

They are two women with life threatening illnesses.

I’ve been writing about health a lot on my blog lately, and lately I’ve come to appreciate the saying, “When you have your health, you have everything.” The concepts of prioritizing health and taking it for granted both occupied my mind today. It all began with Tejano music…

Health Hero #1
3:39 AM. My alarm clock began humming softly with the cheery accordion rhythms of Tejano music. (Whatever, Tejano music is awesome, and if you don’t like it then you must not like puppies or rainbows.) Ugh. My swimming alarm.

I started to roll out of bed to turn off the alarm, and I was stuck! The mean little fiery knot of pain in my right lumbar region was still angry from the day before, and when I tried to turn over it flared up and immobilized me. After rocking back and forth like an upended bug I finally was able to fling myself off the bed. I turned off the alarm…and went right back to sleep. What was the point of going to the gym? I couldn’t even stand upright. Besides, my bed gets exponentially more comfortable the longer I stay in it. By almost 4 AM I’m ready to melt into it forever.

“Eh, I’ll swim tomorrow when I feel better,” I thought, and rolled back under my covers.

Later in the morning I thought about my aunt. She has always been the “fun” aunt, the one who shares makeup tips along with dirty jokes, and her infectious laughter can be heard from one end of the house to another. This year had not been kind to her. Following the tragic and sudden death of her father she sank into a deep depression and turned to junk food for comfort. Her health quickly deteriorated.

She lost her laughter and nearly her life. In early fall she was hospitalized with pancreatitis and complications due to diabetes. She knew she had to stand up for herself. Once she was discharged she promptly joined a gym and hired a (hunky) trainer, insisting that this was a matter of life and death.

When I saw her at Thanksgiving she was glowing with life and ringing with laughter again. She had already lost a considerable amount of weight and was determined to get her glucose levels to a healthy number. (And she had a sassy new haircut!) She goes to the gym rain or shine and drinks the smoothies my uncle dutifully makes for her. She dreams of  the day when she can eat grapes without worrying about a spike in her blood sugar.

“Health,” she said emphatically as she looked me dead in the eye across my grandparents’ living room. “Health is what matters. When you have your health, you have everything.”

My aunt would have gotten up with the Tejano music and gone to the gym, and she would have told me to get my little ass out of bed and go  too.

Health Hero #2
When you work in a corporate setting you inevitably have those moments when you feel like you’re living in a Dilbert cartoon. Today I watched with exhausted and detached amusement as my coworkers spent a good twenty minutes arguing over the wording of some power point slides about a fairly mundane topic. When the other people in the room joined in on the heated semantics debate over “guidelines” versus “ground rules,” I closed my eyes and thought, “My God, is this going to be my life for the next thirty years?” My mind drifted to a woman named Vanessa.

Vanessa is in her early thirties and works in the department that shares the same floor of the building as my department. She and I would often eat lunch in the break room together. She always had a bright smile on her face and was quick to crack jokes.

One week in July, Vanessa disappeared. News began circulating that she had a viral infection, and it was later discovered that she had very aggressive metastatic cancer. She was given months to live, maybe a few years at best. She is dying, and people are arguing over power point slides….yeah.

Recently I saw one of Vanessa’s close friends, who gave me an update. After several rounds of chemo her tumors had shrunk considerably. The prognosis was still dire, but Veronica’s response was:
“I still believe in miracles.”

I thought about Vanessa tonight as I debated between going to a long overdue yoga class and staying at home to watch TV. What would Vanessa do if she had her healthy body back and the freedom to enjoy it? I bet she would take any chance she could to get out of the house and move.

I decided that I would go to yoga class to honor Vanessa and her brave battle against cancer. I had to move slower and more gently than usual, just as I did in taekwondo class last night. Have you ever noticed in some workout videos there’s that one person designated to do the slower, more modified movements for the beginners and the old people? Tonight I was that person.

It didn’t matter how slowly or stiffly I moved. I felt fantastic and relished the opportunity to move and stretch my body. I had to modify upward dog down to cobra to avoid bending my back too much, and let me tell you, I was the fiercest little cobra in the room. Hiss!! When we did tree pose, I stood up as much as I could and was the tallest damn 5’3″ tree I’d ever seen.

By the way, here’s what upward dog vs. cobra looks like (although my cobra was sassier than hers):
upward-dog-and-cobra

When you have your health, you have everything. When your health is threatened, nothing else matters. Why should I put off being healthy until tomorrow? My aunt knew her tomorrows were dwindling and had to make a drastic change. Vanessa might not have many tomorrows left. Health begins today.

Take some time to think about what you prioritize in your life. Are you paying attention to what’s important? Are you honoring the people who love you and motivate you by making sure you’ll be around as long as you can to enjoy life with them?

My alarm is going off at 3:40 AM tomorrow morning. (I’m giving myself an extra minute to snooze). I can’t guarantee that I won’t crawl back into bed when the Tejano trumpets and accordions are silenced, but I will think of my aunt and of Vanessa and thank them for their bravery and their ability to inspire. I’ll make that day a celebration of health and of life. (And still eat chocolate…and some grapes for my aunt!)

 

 

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