“It’s a matter of what can I do to make my heart stronger?”

Nearly a decade after I was declared cancer-free, I received another life-threatening diagnosis – congestive heart failure.

Initially, I wasn’t concerned when I felt ill following a big family dinner. My stomach hurt and there was a burning sensation in my chest.

I figured I just overate, and it was indigestion. I tried taking an antacid, but nothing seemed to help.

A friend of the family who was a medical student suggested I may be having a heart attack and urged my family to take me to emergency.

But it wasn’t a heart attack. Testing revealed I had congestive heart failure. It was such a shock for me. I never realised that was a possibility.

Looking back, I now realise I had been having symptoms of heart failure for more than a month. I constantly felt worn out, something she attributed to the wear and tear of caring for my grandchildren.

I thought maybe I was overdoing it because the grandchildren had me running around so much.

Doctors told me the most common cause of heart failure is coronary artery disease. But they said my heart failure was a consequence of damage caused by the chemotherapy I had for breast cancer treatment nine years earlier.

I had heard about the risks of heart attack and stroke, but congestive heart failure was a new term for me. I learned what I could about my condition.

Heart failure is a chronic, progressive condition in which the heart is unable to pump blood efficiently enough to meet the body’s needs. The condition can result from other conditions that put added stress on the heart muscle, such as an illness that affects the heart, or damage from sustained conditions such as high blood pressure.

I worked to find a doctor I felt could provide the best care.

The first doctor said I would need a heart transplant to survive. A second doctor told me I had six months to live.

I refused to accept such a grim assessment and sought a third opinion, this time from a cardiologist who suggested additional testing and worked to manage my condition with medication.

Finding a doctor willing to work with me was key. With the first doctors, I just felt like a number. But when I found this one, I finally felt like I could make it.

I can’t change the fact I have congestive heart failure, but I believe accepting my condition was important in managing my condition.

The damage was done, you have to accept it so you can move forward. I worked to focus on what I could control, rather than focus on things I couldn’t change.

I had to get educated and understand why this happened, but after that, it’s a matter of what can I do to make my heart stronger?

I made changes to my diet to avoid red meat and significantly reduce my sodium intake. I’m also in regular contact with my doctor to make sure my heart isn’t getting significantly weaker.

I realised I had to do my best to keep healthy and do what I could to beat this.

I try to keep active, though I no longer have the energy to do the 45-minute walk to the park I used to do several times a week.

I still go up and down the stairs and do things around the house. I try to keep moving, but have to be careful not to wear myself out.

I now have a housekeeper come once a week and gets help from my family with other daily chores that require more exertion. My husband does the dishes and my kids help with other chores when they visit.

My family has been very supportive. My kids are always making sure I’m not getting sick or doing too much.

I’m also careful to keep doing what I can for myself. If I just stayed home in bed and let people baby me all the time, I would have been a basket case.

I’m alive and I got to see my kids grow and see my grandchildren.

That’s all that matters.

– Sara, 65