Friday, 8 January 2016

PHighter Friday: Brooke

Ever since I can remember, I loved being busy. So much so, that at 4 years old my parents enrolled me in almost every sport imaginable – dancing, figure skating, gymnastics, swimming, the list goes on and on.
Figure skating seemed to stick and over the next 17 years, the sport would take me on some pretty spectacular adventures. I spent my entire childhood on the ice – 4, 6, 8 hours a day and by the age of 14, I was a national level athlete in both singles and pairs skating.  I represented Canada at several international skating events and spent hours in the gym when I wasn’t on the ice.  My aerobic capacity was second to none.
Which is why I found it alarming, in the spring of 2013 (only a few years after retiring from figure skating) that I was unable to keep pace with my Mother during a charity bike ride.
At the time, I brushed off my inability to breathe as simply being out of shape and found comfort in the idea that more training would help.

Unfortunately, it never did.

Fast forward to February 2014 when my world was forever changed.
It was the morning of the 2014 Olympic Gold Medal Hockey Game, Canada vs the US, and my sister and I were walking downtown Toronto to meet some friends for the early morning game. Out of nowhere, I had to stop. It’s hard to describe what I was feeling in that moment because I can’t really recall. I was fully aware of what was happening around me but I was struggling to even breathe. Needless to say, I visited my local ER shortly afterthinking I would be told I had asthma. Long story short, after almost every test in the book, I was discharged ten days later, with a mystery diagnosis and referrals to both a cardiologist and a respirologist.
It was on March 19th 2014, during my appointment with Dr. Granton at the Pulmonary Hypertension Clinic at Toronto General Hospital that I first heard of Pulmonary Hypertension.
With my PH diagnosis, my world was turned upside down.
Not only was I diagnosed with PH but I also learned that I have two congenital heart defects, both of which made it a miracle that I was able to compete at such a high competitive level when I was younger.

So then came the next dilemma – do ‘we’ operate on the two congenital heart defects (Atrial Septal Defect and Superior Vena Cava Displacement) in the hopes that by correcting these two defects we would stabilize the pulmonary hypertension? Or do we treat the pulmonary hypertension and the congenital heart defects as two separate entities?
Again, after more tests than I’d ever care for, it was decided that there was too much risk involved for the potential reward with regards to correcting my congenital heart defects. They would stay!
To limit the progression of my pulmonary hypertension, I am currently on Adcirca, Tracleer, and Xarelto (even though my PH is not related to blood clots, there are studies that show better prognoses while taking blood thinners). These medications are literally saving my life!
My doctors tried me on Bosentan prior to Tracleer but it was causing some less than ideal side effects.
Growing up, I was an independent, young woman who was comfortable and confidant. I don’t mean that in a cocky, over-pretentious way but in the sense that I knew who I was and was comfortable with who that was. After being diagnosed with PH, I felt as though that had been taken away from me. The body I had known and relied on for the past 24 years had failed me.

I found it hard to let my friends into my ‘new normal’ and instead of relying on my friendships to move forward, I found myself pushing them away.
I hate to burden anyone, and with the state of mind I was in post-diagnosis, I felt as though that is what I would be to my friends. Hindsight being 20/20, pushing them away was the last thing I should have done and the last thing they would have wanted.
Fast forward almost two years later and here I am, better than I was pre-diagnosis but still learning to adapt to my new normal. I still find it difficult to talk about my journey with PH and I have moments where thinking of what the future holds paralyzes me with fear, but I try to remind myself to live in the moment. After being diagnosed, I was so closed off from the real world and guarded with friends and family – I refuse to go back to that.
As backward as this may seem, coming from someone with a chronic illness, I am one of the blessed ones. I’m surrounded by some amazing friends and family who would reach the ends of the earth if it would help. I now realize that that’s pretty priceless!
As a patient, it seems that every time I think I have found my footing some test, complication or setback rears its ugly head.
I won’t sugar coat it, adapting has had numerous challenges. I think the hardest part of my diagnosis was realizing that there was no cure; no way to make the incurable go away. Being sick is being stuck in a limbo of sorts where feelings of anxiousness and depression can creep in at any given moment, with very little notice. The future becomes one big question mark (even more so than any other average 20-something).
And although it’s easy to get lost in the negative aspects of Pulmonary Hypertension, I try to remain positive - for as much as PH has taken from me, it has given surprising gifts as well.
Throughout this journey (that I’ve hopefully only just begun) I’ve met some amazing people. PH has intensified my love of life, taught me patience where I had little, and shown me how beautiful and fragile life can be.
Like I said earlier, I love being busy – that hasn’t changed. I currently work a full-time job (that I love), a part-time job (at a local hospital) and go to school part-time (Go Marauders!).
PH definitely makes this tricky and I find that I tire more easily than before but I’m a firm believer in mind over matter, and until I’m no longer physically able to do the things that bring me comfort (like staying busy), I plan on keeping on!
I don’t know why it takes hardship to gain insight, but it does. And as much as I wouldn’t wish chronic illness on anyone, I’m grateful for the insight it has given me.
Being sick doesn’t only make you weak, it makes you strong. It gives you knowledge – you learn to stop and smell the roses. You know it’s not important to sweat the small stuff because you’ve had bigger things to worry about.

 My life may be far from perfect but I am blessed.


  1. You are one very strong young lady, Brooke Paulin. Wishing you only the best for years to come.

  2. Great blog and inspirational too xx