When Terran Lamp was just three weeks old, she was admitted to the University of Virginia newborn special care unit.
There, doctors discovered that, along with some other health issues, Lamp had been born with two holes in her heart — which would have huge implications throughout her life and inform how she thought about her health and preventive care.
She stayed in the hospital for three months after the diagnosis. By age 4, she had already had two open heart surgeries, gone into complete heart block, and received an implanted pacemaker.
Just as she was learning to live her life managing one serious illness, she was diagnosed at age 10 with a benign dermoid brain tumor — and then, more recently, with breast cancer.
But while Lamp has had way more than her fair share of hardships, today she does her best to stay as healthy as she can by taking control of her health.
As a child, Lamp says, the constant worrying about her health taught her a valuable lesson about living with a chronic condition (a lesson that can help us all).
It taught her that if she still wanted to do things, like run and travel, she would have to take control of her health and not let being sick completely define her. "I can't not have it, but I can not be restricted by it," she says. "Heart disease doesn't have me. I have heart disease."
So she joined the state champion track team, she went to a college some distance away from her mom, and later, she travelled to Germany and California. Claiming this little bit of independence helped her feel like she was in control of her health and her life.
But to do this meant learning a lot about preventive care.
"I'm at the doctor probably every three months," she says, but these doctors are not just specialists to treat her heart and her cancer.
She also sees a general practitioner for an annual check-up, who helps her monitor her four health numbers: blood pressure (too low, in her case, could signify a problem with her pacemaker), cholesterol, body mass index (BMI), and blood sugar levels.
She also tries to stay active in order to stay healthy.
She works out at the gym four to five times a week and runs half-marathons. "I can't always run [the entire way]," she says. "But I complete them. I'm a finisher, even if I end up walking for most of it. That way, I feel like I've done something."
And now, Lamp is working to help other women stay healthy too.
She got involved with the National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease and became a WomenHeart Champion. She wants to help educate other women about the importance of preventive care and motivate other women with heart disease to keep thriving despite their diagnosis by sharing her story and what she does to try to stay healthy.
"I know what it is like, first and foremost, to be a patient," she says. "That's why I do so much for WomenHeart. That's why I tell my story ... and that's why I encourage women to go out and get checked for heart disease, so it does not go unnoticed."
As a WomenHeart Champion, she can meet other women with heart disease, offer advice and help pass along important information so that no one overlooks a possible symptom.
For example, she says, she recently met a flight attendant through her work as a WomenHeart Champion who volunteered that she was a little worried about her health. "She said, I'm a little concerned because about 25,000 feet, the left side of my face goes numb," Lamp remembers, "and she was all nonchalant about it." But immediately, Lamp felt compelled to push her to see a doctor to figure out what was causing this numbness.
To Lamp, the peer-to-peer advocacy is a very powerful tool because it allows women to look out for each other.
"We have got to make sure that we are paying attention [to our health] and we have to make sure that we are passing along that attention and that awareness," she adds.
That way, she says, maybe we can help more people take control of their health before they ever get sick in the first place.
Learn more about how to take control of your health at Cigna.com/TakeControl.