Welcome to the first instalment of our latest website addition, 'Let's Talk', featuring women from around Australia talking about their own health journeys.
First up, we'll be bringing you profiles of some of the wonderful women we met while we were on the road recently with the 'Heart Truck', also known as the Heart of Australia, the mobile medical services unit founded by cardiologist Dr Rolf Gomes. For three years the Heart Truck, a 25-metre mobile clinic, has been regularly visiting towns in rural Queensland. A second truck is now set to take to the road, to visit more rural Queensland towns, in early 2018.
Sharon Porter, 63, Tamworth, NSW.
Like many people in rural Australia, Sharon Porter is used to driving long distances to access health services. On the day we meet her, she has driven four hours from Tamworth in New South Wales for her first appointment with the Heart Truck at Goondiwindi in Queensland.
"When you live in Tamworth you'll drive a long way to see doctors," she says. "It's not remote, but it's [a matter of] trying to get the professional care that you need."
It was 12 months ago that Sharon first "took a turn", feeling dizzy and tight in the chest. She knew she was at risk of heart attack, as her father and brother had both had heart attacks. "But even so, it took to have the turn [for me] to go to the doctor."
Sharon had to wait so long to see a specialist that she had another heart attack before her appointment. She was eventually told she had high blood pressure, which didn't ring true for her.
"I didn't quite agree with that specialist – even in here they told me I do not have high blood pressure," she says.
"I've got three blockages, but minor ones. Joe [a friend who also visits the Heart Truck] told me about this chappy [Dr Gomes], and my hubby actually saw him on TV, on [ABC's] Australian Story. So we came up here. Got a second opinion after this specialist from Sydney just wanted to put me on all these tablets. I didn't have high blood pressure, I didn't have sugar and I didn't have cholesterol. He's just proven it in there."
Today Sharon has had an angiogram, but is returning to the Heart Truck tomorrow for another stress test, "to see why I'm having the pains and the tightness and these dizzy spells". So she's going home with a portable Holter monitor wired up to her, to measure her heart's activity overnight.
Sharon says that, up until the age of 42, she was "very sporty", playing hockey, netball, tennis, basketball, cricket, even women's AFL. Tragically, it all changed in a split second when she suffered a back injury in a workplace accident, which continues to affect her mobility.
"I put on a bit of weight because I'm not doing any exercise. I was on an exercise walk when I had the first turn, so I'm not doing any sort of exercise until we get this sorted, then I'll start," she says. "I do miss my sport. If I hadn't hurt my back, believe you me, I'd still be playing sport."
Sharon has modified her diet to avoid gaining too much weight – "I don't eat fat like I used to, not as much potato or bread" – and has also had to find new ways to address her mental health, which was also profoundly impacted by the death of her only child 28 years ago.
She plays internet games such as poker. "That's my sport now, Texas Hold 'Em poker," she says. "I'll also do crosswords or play yahtzee to keep my brain going. I'm not the world's number-one reader since my son died. I used to read all the time, but now I can't concentrate on reading, it won't sink in."
Sharon's message: "You should never take anything for granted, even the young ones shouldn't. You should always get yourself checked out. And always get a second opinion."
Read more about cardiovascular health and ways to reduce your risk of heart disease.