I was so impressed by the Movie Night that Lisa hosted with the remarkable women who made Pink Ribbons Inc. It’s always a delicate and often radical matter to talk about fundraising and awareness raising around illnesses – and in many ways any challenge to pink ribbon land is a risky undertaking so these women – Ravida Din; Barbara Brenner, and Dr. Samantha King are my heroes. I hope folks will see the film and read the superb discussion that took place in the thread here.

One area I’m concerned about is the way the Komen et all focus has skewed our view of women’s illnesses and health risks. With several dear friends who are breast cancer survivors – as well as one who didn’t make it past her second year of treatment at age 30, 30 years ago – I am so grateful that the awareness is out there and that women are encouraged to check and get treatment.

But – and it’s a big one to me – more women die of heart disease than breast cancer. Now that clearly does not mean that we should ignore breast cancer – but we do need to take seriously the heart health issues women face, particularly since the signs of women’s heart attacks are different from men’s and so easily missed or misdiagnosed. The number of women who report bad experiences when they suspect a heart attack and head for the ER is staggering – with all too numerous tales of being sent home with antacid or anti-anxiety drugs rather than tested and treated. And those are just the women who know to head for help and have the chance to. So many of us don’t know the critical signs – or ignore them.

• Discomfort, tightness,uncomfortable pressure, fullness, squeezing in the center of the chest lasting more than a few minutes, or comes and goes
• Crushing chest pain
• Pressure or pain that spreads to the shoulders, neck, upper back, jaw, or arms.
• Dizziness or nausea
• Clammy sweats, heart flutters, or paleness
• Unexplained feelings of anxiety, fatigue or weakness – especially with exertion
• Stomach or abdominal pain
• Shortness of breath and difficulty breathing

The great video above that sure captures all too well the way so many of us react – I certainly related – and smacked my forehead a few times – when I saw it!

As I mentioned, this issue is very dear to my … heart. Last year, as some of you know, I had a sudden heart attack and congestive heart failure. In the weeks leading up to it, I hadn’t felt great but I was working 24/7 and had deadlines to meet and meetings to travel to and the usual buzz of life these days. I missed a number of signs I should have taken seriously. When I found myself in Oakland, CA unable to breathe, I was so lucky that my hotel acted fast – and that the nearest hospital, Alta Bates, took exceptional care of me. I was so lucky to be somewhere with a world-class cardiac unit and a team that takes women’s symptoms seriously.

And that is what we need to achieve for all women – a balanced view of women’s health concerns that does not pit one illness against another in the search for research and treatment funding and does not ignore the biggest risk of all in favor of pink ribbons and commercial interests.

For more information on Women and heart disease, check out Womenheart . Womenheart trains women how to be advocates in their own communities and also supports a superb online community at Inspire.