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I’m Just Jen

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

By Jennifer Gooden

I am not a heart hero. I am not a cardiac warrior. I am not a congenital heart survivor. I am not quite sure why it a plucks my nerve when people call me brave, strong or some combo of cardiac champion.

I am just Jen. I am me.

I am a twentysomething woman who was dealt a less than favorable hand of cards in this game of life and I am trying to make the best out of. Sometimes the best out of life for me is sitting with a heart mom at work and explaining every single beep and boop that the cardiac monitor that their baby is hooked up to is making. Sometimes the best out of life for me is keeping my head down, ignoring the heart warrior comments and going about my merry way. And that is OK.

I do not want to be defined by my cardiac anatomy, but often, that is exactly what happens when patients’ family members note my zipper. Or a new coworker finds out. I become the nurse with a Fontan instead of Jen. They light up and say “Oh, cool!” Personally, I don’t think that half of a heart is cool, but I understand the warped sentiment. If I could swap out my heart with a “normal” one without any repercussions, I would—most days. And that is OK.

It is OK to love your funky heart. It is OK to hate your funky heart sometimes. It is OK to be sad, or angry or even laugh about a predicament you’re in because of your heart. All of it. It is all OK. Feel your feelings. Embrace your emotions. Own them. And mostly, accept them.

One thing that I’ve learned already this year is that I am only responsible for me. It is not my job—nor is it yours—to be responsible for others and how they feel or cope with your congenital heart defect. Repeat it: Not responsible. For your parents, or your spouse or your children. Not responsible. Everyone, you included, process things at their own time.

So, let them process. Let them feel their feelings and embrace their emotions. Just be ready to have an open dialogue about feeling, emotions and coping. Tell them when you are ready to take on the world and be a heart hero. Equally as important, tell them when you are ready to just put your head down and keep going. And then keep going.


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