On November 11, 2020

The heart of the matter

A little over 30 years ago, I lost my father to a massive heart attack. He was 55 years old, in good shape, and active – definitely not someone you’d expect to die so young. However, he was a smoker and as the coroner report attested, he had considerable plaque build-up in his arteries, which meant that lifestyle and DNA likely combined to bring him down.

My brothers and I took note of this and have often talked over the years about the hereditary aspects of heart disease. What makes matters worse is that there’s also a tendency for high cholesterol (which can cause heart disease) on my mother’s side, too.

I’ve had my cholesterol checked over the years and it’s always run on the high side – as expected. I’ve remained wary of this point, so I’ve always been careful about my diet and lifestyle. I’m certainly not the picture of health when it comes to food intake, but I’m better than average, for sure. And at 54 years old and running 15-20 miles a week, I think I’m keeping myself in pretty good shape.

Looking at my diet, I avoid all fried and fast food, in general. I get a fair share of veggies, fruits, and nuts almost every day and if I eat breads, it’s usually whole grains. My fluid intake consists of water, hydration products for running, and the occasional cocktail (I rarely drink soda or sweetened drinks). And finally, I only eat red meat a few times a month, preferring fish and chicken as my staples.

My two downfalls are pizza (hey, I’m Italian) and ice cream. The latter is my Achilles heel by a long shot. My father got me started on the ice cream habit as a kid and I’ve never been able to shake it.

The urge overtakes me in the evenings just before I head off to bed. Like a twilight ritual, as I begin to get drowsy, my sweet tooth kicks in. Before I know it, I’m in the kitchen concocting a sugary nightcap.

I go through phases, but for the last several years, my go-to sundae consists of chocolate or vanilla ice cream with pure Vermont maple syrup and either peanuts or pistachios liberally applied to the top. Just writing about it gets the juices in my mouth flowing!

Unfortunately, every time I eat one of these sundaes, I get the funny feeling they’re causing plaque to build up in my arteries.

As I wrote about in the spring, I lost a dear friend to a heart attack quite unexpectedly. His passing was a gigantic slap in the face since he was only in his early 50s and a fairly active guy. I was pretty shaken so I vowed that I would immediately see a cardiologist and get a full work-up of my heart health.

It took months to get in but when I finally did, I found the experience enlightening. I learned more about cholesterol in one hour than I had in my entire life. And since I had a history of heart disease in my family and a tendency to run high in the cholesterol category, my doctor insisted I get some scans done.

I got a CT scan on my heart, which showed very little plaque for a man my age. This thrilled me. However, the second scan – a sonogram of my carotid arteries – didn’t have the best results. It turns out that the radiation I had on my neck for cancer several years ago has caused a higher-than-normal level of plaque to adhere to the inside of those arteries – so much so that I need to go on medication to combat the effects.

This was not the news that I wanted to hear. However, the doctor made me feel good that I had taken the steps to look into my health. Had I not, I was heading down the same road as my father and good friend.

So, I will begin a new chapter in my health by starting a medication that I would much rather not be taking. I will also be visiting a nutritionist to see what other steps I can take to put myself at lower risk. In some ways, I’m excited to learn more and try to see if I can alter the effects that radiation and DNA have had on my body. The only thing that frightens me is knowing that my new nutritionist is likely going to nix my nighttime ice cream parties.

Life can be so unfair…

In this week’s feature, we go back a few years to the classic Jim Carrey film, “The Truman Show,” which is both a comedic and poignant example of life treating someone unfairly.

With the lack of new films being released, I’ve had to occasionally dive back into the annals of great movies I’ve seen. “The Truman Show” is one I’ve been wanting my son to watch given how unique and metaphorically intoxicating it is. Thankfully, upon viewing again 22 years after its initial release, it holds up surprisingly well.

This was the film that showed the world what a great actor Jim Carrey was going to be. It was a wonderfully affecting commentary on modern life and the constricting worlds we sometimes find ourselves in.

If you’re looking for a great film to revisit or were never lucky enough to see it in the first place, definitely give this Jim Carrey classic a try.

Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at moviediary@att.net.

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