I’m going to have to put off baking my Valentine’s Day cake until I can get back home on Friday. I have my heart-shaped pans, but the oven is broken in my new Washington apartment. Even so, I’m not letting the day pass without asking everyone for a favor.
My mother was born on Valentine’s Day. From the time she turned fifteen, my father gave her a heart-shaped box of chocolates, and from the time I was nine and bought some heart-shaped pans at the dime store, I baked her a cake. Mother loved the heart connection to her birthday.
Several years ago, the heart connection took on a new meaning. My mother was in good health. She went to the doctor regularly, and, except for some concern about high cholesterol and a few complaints about gas pains and arthritis, she always got a good report. When she had some minor surgery, all the kids and grandkids came to visit. She was doing great, ready to check out of the hospital the next morning. So after a few more turns racing her up and down the hallway in wheelchairs, we all headed home.
In the middle of the night, one of my brothers called. He said Mama was dead. I couldn’t believe it. I thought he had made some kind of terrible mistake. He said Daddy had been sitting with her when she leaned forward and said, “Don, there’s that gas pain again.” Then she died.
The autopsy showed that she had advanced heart disease. No one had any inkling.
This year more women than men will die from heart disease. In fact, every minute, a woman dies from heart disease. And the symptoms for women aren’t always the same as for men. As I learned when the doctor called to explain how she died, heart disease can easily be overlooked for women.
So enjoy Valentine’s Day and all the hearts, but here’s my ask: Today please ask a woman you love to learn more about heart disease. Learn the symptoms. Learn the risks. Learn prevention. Please don’t wait.
Tomorrow I’ll bake a cake. I’ll open up the box that has some of the old valentines my daddy gave to my mother. And I’ll ask the women I love to take better care of themselves.
Happy Valentine’s Day!