Making Lemonade

Making Lemonade

Editor’s note:  The following is a speech given at the Miracle Mile Toastmasters Club on July 13, 2017.

We all experience events which render us vulnerable – as if caught in a vortex, incapable of controlling everything swirling around us. At moments like this we find ourselves thinking, “How will I survive?”

In her book, “Option B,”  Sheryl Sandberg states, “We plant the seeds of resilience in the ways we process negative events.”  What are the narratives we tell ourselves about the event?  Are we personalizing it – perhaps even blaming ourselves? Do we believe the event is pervasive – that it will affect all areas of our lives? Do we tell ourselves that we will feel like this forever? The negativity of the 3P’s (personalization, pervasiveness and permanence) can impede our ability to recover.

I have 3 stories to tell you. In my first, he is 33 years old, 6’ 11” and a remarkable basketball player.  One of the Heat’s Big Three, he was number 1 in more ways than one.  In 2014, the first sign of a career ending problem – pulmonary emboli were found in his lungs.  Imagine that.  When most people his age are in careers that are just taking off, his was coming to an abrupt end.  The game he loved, that was his passion would continue, but without him.  In May, it was announced that Chris Bosh and The Heat would part ways.  In July, Chris wrote on his website,  ( an extraordinary open letter to Miami.

He spoke of the support he’d received from his family, teammates, coaches, fans and the entire community.  He thanked Miami for welcoming and encouraging him as “we” traveled together on this journey.  While he spoke of his discouragement and “down” moments, he somehow broke through the 3 P’s and made a conscious effort to dwell on all the wonderful moments he had here.

Wow!  Chris Bosh took a bunch lemons and made lemonade.

My second story is about someone who is part of our Miracle Mile family – Susan Racher.  Some of you are aware of her story – some not.  Susan has an MBA in accounting and finance, and is Vice President of the Walter H. Coulter Foundation.  As such she is in charge of the endowment’s investment portfolio and has experience in obtaining grants.  Little did she know that these skills would help her in a larger way.

A few years ago, her son became ill and was hospitalized.  As Susan puts it, “if he had kidney stones there would have been a good deal of support.”  However, her son had a mental illness.  There were support groups for families overwhelmed by other illnesses, but nothing to support families of people with mental illness.  As a family member who was dealing with new problems and concerns, Susan recognized the need to do something and do it NOW.

A friend suggested she get in touch with NAMI – the National Alliance on Mental Illness.  Unfortunately the organization in Miami was practically non-existent, what she called a “zombie organization.”  Susan started from scratch – at first going to Broward to get better educated and then worked with others to rebuild a new Miami-Dade NAMI organization.  This group is providing support to families throughout Dade County, raising awareness and educating the community.

Susan observed that when the unimaginable happens, we feel like victims,  Working to help others is empowering.  When she was given lemons, she made lemonade, and has helped many people she doesn’t personally know.

My 3rd story is about me.  As most of you know, in January of 2016 I had a heart attack.  I made many lifestyle changes and thought I was doing great.  Almost a year to the date, I was exercising and felt pressure in my jaw.  Since the heart attack presented as intense pain in my jaw, I mentioned it to the staff at cardiac rehab.  Before I knew what was happening my cardiologist had me scheduled for another cardiac catheterization.  The result was an additional stent.  My medical records indicated an occlusion in the LAD (left anterior descending artery, sometimes called the Widow maker).

What a shock!  What did I do wrong?  Whoops, there goes that narrative personalizing the event and blaming myself. Changing that  story wasn’t easy, but with some outside help and persistence I did.  In the last few months, I’ve done more investigation on my specific condition and worked with a number of medical professionals at the Miami Cardiovascular Institute at Baptist Hospital to improve my health.  A couple of weeks ago, I was nominated by the Institute to represent Baptist as an educator for the WomenHeart organization.

What a journey this has become.  It was surprising, then frightening, then depressing, but now enlightening.  It was as if the Universe was waiting for the right moment to give me this opportunity.  I was telling my friend Leisha about this possibility and she said, “You’re just like Susan — taking lemons and making lemonade.

I may not have made the lemonade yet, but I’m working on the recipe.  How cool is that?

My YOLO Plan

My YOLO Plan

Hello everyone. I’m getting back into the swing of things.   Following is a portion of a speech I gave last week at my Toastmasters Meeting.  Some members had heart health questions, and I thought this might answer some of them — perhaps you’ll find it helpful as well.

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When it comes to life as we know it, there’s a paradigm – YOLO – “You Only Live Once.” Think about that: one chance – one journey.  No instant replay – no do-overs.

Like most of us, I’d like to maximize my life, so I developed a “YOLO plan.” Here’s why.  Last year on January 19th, I awoke with intense pain in my jaw.  At first, I thought I needed a root canal, but after several minutes the pain dissipated.  Still very tired, I climbed back into bed.

A few hours later, it happened again.  Root canal pain comes on its own — it doesn’t end without a dentist’s intervention.  I concluded this was something else, and I was correct. I’d had a heart attack.

We’ve all heard stories about someone grabbing his chest or left arm, then collapsing in pain.  Some heart attacks are like that.  However, there are more exceptions to that scenario than you’d think.  The first rule of my YOLO plan is “Listen To Your Body.” Unexpected pain anywhere from your jaw through your torso could be referred cardiac pain.  Additionally, heart attacks may come masked as nausea, heartburn, indigestion, fatigue, dizziness, or profuse sweating.

After recovering from the shock of learning I’d had a heart attack, I started educating myself.  Yep!  Number 2 on my YOLO plan was, “Learn all I can about what had happened.” My first stop was medical records; I read everything from when I entered the ER to when I was discharged.  If I didn’t understand something, I asked questions or did some research.

Essential to my education was learning a heart attack is an event indicating the real problem.  In my case, it is CAD or coronary artery disease.  This was like a good news/bad news joke.  The good news is, it’s treatable – the bad news is it doesn’t go away.  Number 3 on the YOLO plan: Lifestyle changes would be required.  Are any of these things you might consider?


People ask if I’m on a restricted diet.  There is a line from West Side Story.  One of the “Jets” was explaining why he was a delinquent.  He went to a social worker who said he had been deprived as a youth.  As a consequence, he became depraved on account of his being deprived.  Likewise, highly restrictive diets make me depraved!  I ignore fad diets.

I am incredibly fortunate to have a physician who is Board Certified in Obesity Medicine and is knowledgeable in the science of nutrition.  As a result, I’ve spent the last year learning about macronutrients, the glycemic index, and load.  I have an app that tracks what I eat and shows how macronutrients are balanced in each day’s meals and snacks.

Of course, you must know how successful your dietary changes are. I’ve lost more than 20 pounds, but that is only one way to measure success.  For a cardiac patient monitoring blood work is critical.  Of particular interest is tracking your cholesterol (HDL and LDL and the ratio of the 2), triglycerides, and lipoproteins.


After the event, I was strongly encouraged to attend Cardiac Rehab and begin an exercise plan.  Cardiac patients are closely monitored, and the program includes cardio, weight training, and some interval training.  I try to go 3 to 4 times per week.  On beautiful days, I head outside to take a walk.  My hypertension is not a thing of the past, but with exercise and medication, it’s under control.


Did you know that sleep deprivation contributes to heart disease? I’ve discovered that I’m at my best when I get between 7 and 8 hours of sleep.  My internal alarm clock goes off at about 5:30 am, so I’m in bed early.


One of the most challenging things for a Type A person (like me) is managing stress. I’ve taken up meditation, and initially, I found that stressful.  Ever try to clear your brain of thought?  Pardon the pun, but mine has a mind of its own!

Last month I was doing some cardio at Rehab.  Actually, I was “overdoing” some cardio.  As I was exercising, I felt some pressure in my jaw — no pain, just pressure.  I stopped, and the feeling went away.  I mentioned it to one of the staff, who suggested I contact my cardiologist.  Within a few days, I’d seen my primary doctor, the cardiologist, and had a cardiac catheterization with a new stent inserted.

A stent was inserted in the Right Coronary Artery when I had the attack a year ago.  There was also an indication of a slight occlusion in the LAD (left anterior descending artery).  The blockage had grown significantly, and it was where the new stent was inserted.  The LAD runs down the front of the heart and is often referred to as the widow maker. “You Only Live Once.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the leading cause of death in the United States is Heart Disease.  During the last year, I’ve become acutely aware of that.  In addition to the lifestyle changes mentioned above, it’s essential to:

1.  Know your family history.

2.  If you smoke – STOP!

3.  Get physical exams regularly and check those numbers in your blood tests.

4.  If you have hypertension — get it under control.

Of course, follow your YOLO plan — educate yourself and, above all, LISTEN TO YOUR BODY.  Remember, it doesn’t have to be an extraordinary event, and it may seem like nothing — the pressure in your jaw, nausea, or extreme fatigue.  Do not ignore these symptoms.

Remember, YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE — don’t cut your life short.



Years ago, there was a Peanuts cartoon in which Snoopy  was running one way, then another, back and forth.  In the last panel Lucy said, “Indecision is an awful thing.”  Last August, in addition to preparing for my Toastmasters club’s humorous speech contest, I was tracking a tropical storm named Erika.   It would strengthen, then weaken, speed up, then slow down.  She just couldn’t make up her mind.

If Erika was indecisive, the news media was not.  In spite of the storms apparent dissipation, I was bombarded with alerts to take caution and prepare.  Doomsday outweighed writing a speech.

I ran out to get supplies.  Once in the store I headed for the water aisle.  There was none — the populace had commandeered all the water.  I left the store thinking, “Where am I going to get water?”  I looked next door and there was a liquor store.  “What the heck,” I reasoned, “liquid is liquid.”

I woke up the next afternoon to sunny skies and one heck of a headache.   My brain was on hold.  I needed to work on my speech and couldn’t come up with a topic, much less develop a humorous speech.

By Sunday, I was rarin’ to go.  “Come on Google, let’s get some ideas.”  I typed “humorous speeches.”  There were countless lists and hundreds of topics.  It was like a good news / bad news joke — lots of ideas but too many to wade through.  That leads to indecision and of course “indecision is an awful thing.”

Further down the page I spied another link — Humorous Speeches – Toastmasters.  Wow, I hit the mother-lode.  I clicked on it — and found various videos of former contestant winners.  As I watched masters in action my confidence started to wane.  Google should have a disclaimer — “don’t watch Toastmasters Humorous Speech Contests if you’re going to be in one.”  Which reminded me of another disclaimer Google needs, “Never use medical sites to diagnose your symptoms.”

A few years ago, I noticed the vision in my right eye was blurry.   It was also red and uncomfortable.  After a couple of days, I got the bright idea to google blurry vision.    Good old Google even had a selection for blurry vision in 1 eye.  Several clicks later, I found I either had macular degeneration, glaucoma, or …  a brain tumor.   By the time I saw the doctor I was trembling.  After an exam, he announced, “You have dry eye syndrome.”   DRY EYE SYNDROME?   That was never mentioned on any of the sites I saw.

Monday arrived and there were 4 days to prepare my speech and still no topic.  I wasn’t close to a decision.  Yeah, yeah, I hear you, “Indecision is an awful thing.”

Staring at my computer, my mind drifted and I thought about how much technology and the internet had changed our lives.  Have you noticed that today everything is abbreviated: like OMG – Oh my God, BTW – By the way, LOL – Laugh Out Load, BB4N – bye-bye for now.  What happened to words?  We are speaking in letters and numbers.  I love the written word and it’s disappearing.

Then there’s social media.  It seems everyone is vying for the Golden Thumb Award.  You know, winning the prize for getting the most likes on Facebook in 1 day!  We don’t socialize any more, we sit in front of computer screens having pretend relationships with strangers.

By Tuesday, the tension was mounting and while my mind wasn’t a blank — it was full of random thoughts having no connection like:


News media,



The internet

Social media.

Where was the commonality?  In my mind, I saw Lucy shaking her fists in the air screaming, “INDECISION IS AN AWFUL THING.”

Then it hit me.  Perhaps Lucy wasn’t right.  You know, the mind works in mysterious ways.  What if I were to take Lucy and all my incongruous thoughts and weave  them into a story about creating a speech.  And there you have it — a bit crazy, a little odd — but a speech none the less.  Goodbye Lucy!