How Two Women Survived Major Health Challenges
By Elisa Zied
As Ella Fitzgerald has sung, “Into each life some rain must fall.” But sometimes, seemingly out of nowhere, people experience a downpour that rocks their world like nothing else. Although I’ve never personally experienced a truly debilitating health issue (knock on wood), just six months ago, my mother went through three surgeries during a five-week stay in a hospital and rehab following an unexpected brain aneurysm bleed. I even wrote about my experience helping her recover while still caring for myself. I’m happy to report that despite persistent fatigue and the fact that she doesn’t always feel quite like herself, my mother is living her life, enjoying her work creating a big, beautiful musical based on the life of Liberace, and spending quality time with friends and family – especially her two grandsons.
My mother’s incident and how she handled it, both initially and throughout her recovery, taught me so much. She was an excellent patient who seldom pitied herself and instead relied on hard work and humor – even about her partially shaved head – to recover physically and emotionally. Her experience also helped me connect with two women in their 40s – Helen, 46, a corporate officer at a Fortune 500 company, and Sally Freedman, 41, a banker, both based in New York – who each went through incidents similar to my mother with grace and dignity. Like my mother, they’ve worked hard to turn what they’ve been through into experiences that have helped them grow and inspire others along the way.
None of us ever knows what tomorrow will bring. Of course, the two amazing women I had the pleasure of interviewing never anticipated they’d confront serious health challenges, especially at relatively young ages. But instead of allowing their experiences to ruin them, they’ve done just the opposite, choosing instead to learn and grow from them as well as use them to further challenge themselves. I hope that after reading my interview with them below, you’ll be inspired to live life to its fullest and to nurture your brain, body and mind with good food, fitness, connection and purpose no matter what curve balls get thrown at or around you.
Describe your eating and fitness habits and overall lifestyle before your incident:
Helen: Before the incident, I was generally pretty healthy. I was never a smoker and am a lightweight when it comes to alcohol. However, I could have led a healthier lifestyle. I generally slept only five or six hours a night, did very little exercise and left much to be desired as it relates to my eating habits – my diet was high in carbs and fried food, and low in fruits and vegetables. As a result, while I wasn’t really overweight, I had gained more than 10 pounds over the past eight years. Regardless though, I was never concerned about my health, easily passing the tests at every physical checkup. Except for one issue – migraines. Last September, I finally saw a neurologist who prescribed pain medicine. He told me to let him know if it didn’t help or if the migraines became more frequent. As it turned out, I had one on January 17, six days before a massive headache led me to the hospital.
Sally: Before my incident, I was in the best shape of my life. In 2013, I spent most of the year training for my lifelong dream of completing an Ironman. During the peak of my training, I exercised two to five hours a day, eating an organic, gluten-free diet, and feeling great. On August 18, 2013, I completed the Ironman Mont Tremblant – my most amazing feat in my career as an amateur athlete. Aside from the Ironman, I had always competed in various races. I’ve been active since I was young, following the fantastic examples of my parents, all of whom are marathoners. Although I still struggle with my eating, most experts would agree that my diet is quite healthy, even when I’m not training for a race. In fact, I had a health screening in October 2013, and the nurse told me that she hadn’t seen such strong results in many people. She said, “You must eat flax seeds everyday!” Who doesn’t?! My blood pressure was low (as usual), and I was feeling amazing. I had absolutely no symptoms to presage what was to come.