Lauren Klukas’s father used the line “she was struck by lightning twice” to describe Lauren’s life experiences. Lauren loved sports and began competitive swimming at age 9. By age 11 she was in the pool 9 times a week, often practicing 4 ½ hours per day, showing incredible promise. But then lightening struck the first time. At age 12, she began experiencing back pain, along with other concerning symptoms. She was advised by doctors it was growth pain. However, the pain intensified, and Lauren finally saw a sports physician. Initial diagnosis, growth pains; Lauren did not accept this and told the doctor she was not leaving she had a better explanation. Within a week Lauren was at a neurologist appointment and was shortly after diagnosed with a tumor wrapped around her spinal cord. Despite being told it would be a slow recovery, Lauren was out of the hospital in a week and within 3 months won a provincial title in swimming.
Lauren shares, unfortunately, she never quite recovered to her previous competitive level, so upon completing high school she transitioned to coaching and coached her sport for another 10 years. Then the second lightning bolt hit while she was pregnant with her daughter. She continued to work out but noticed at about 16 weeks she was having strange heart palpations. She had experienced these palpations once before, prior to being pregnant, but thought that it was because she wasn’t as in shape as when she was competitive swimming, despite working out 5 days a week. However, this time the palpitations continued. Three weeks after tests were run, she received a panicked phone call telling her to stop all activity and come immediately to the hospital. After another week of testing, she was advised that they felt she had Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Cardiomyopathy (ARVC), a condition where the right side of the heart breaks down because of a defect in the glue that hold the muscle cells of the heart together. After genetic testing, her diagnosis was confirmed on August 20, 2013. Endurance exercise is one of the factors that contributes to the disease onset. There is no cure, only interventions, and Lauren had to give up all exercise indefinitely.
On this episode, Lauren talks about her journey through her diagnosis and forced change in lifestyle. When her daughter was 8 months old, Lauren had a friend who had lost a son, ask how she was really doing. Up to that point, she indicates she had just been surviving and she was now angry and bitter. Her friend voiced that those emotions were expected and said to Lauren that she was grieving. This was a break-through for Lauren and allowed her to start wrestling with her grief and to recognize she was on a grief journey. She voices that having self-compassion and allowing herself to be “okay, not being okay” helped her on her healing journey. Lauren also indicates that finding a community of supporters that allowed her the space to grieve but also pushed her when she needed was key. Finally, she notes as an athlete it was important to recognize her identity was not the sport she was involved in; that was just a piece of who she truly was.
Lauren also discusses that she is now involved in bringing awareness to the idea that health and wellness are complex. There is so many more complexities to health than just exercise and food. She states that such a limited view of health can bring shame to people in a very unhealthy way.
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