In health, as on sports teams, communication is survival. Vancouver-based cardiology and medical genetics researcher—and former Branksome team rower—Emilie THÉBERGE’12, MSc, encourages women to be open with their healthcare providers about any unusual or unfamiliar symptoms they may experience. No matter how minor or irrelevant a symptom seems, Emilie stresses the urgency for women to self-advocate.
Emilie learned the benefits of communication while rowing for Branksome. “To succeed, we had to know how to talk to and support each other. If one team member was having a hard time, it affected all of us.” Effective support and communication led to both friendships and championship wins.
Science-oriented parents encouraged the young rower’s early interest in health: “I was always interested in understanding how much of what happened in our bodies was in and outside of our control—how much was nurture versus nature.” The role of the genetic blueprint intrigued Emilie: how gender and hormones affected her ability to strengthen her body for the sport via modified diet and targeted workouts.
She learned that, until the 1990s, the medical profession did little to support women’s heart disease research. “Women only began to be included in clinical trials and research 30 years ago. Until then, men’s bodies and experiences were the default,” says Emilie. “Extensive research since then shows that women’s heart disease often gets misdiagnosed because it presents differently, and women can communicate it differently.
“For example, women may describe their chest pain as a dull ache, burning or tightness, words rarely used by men, so there’s a delay in diagnosis. Many may also experience nausea, excess fatigue, overall weakness or a feeling of heat radiating to the back or arms.”
Emilie further encourages women to talk with relatives about their shared medical history, as conditions running in a family suggest a higher genetic predisposition. “Learning about your family history is important and empowering. You’ll know what to watch out for in the future, and to start check-ins with your health providers before lightning strikes.”
The gender inequities have Emilie seeing red—but also wearing it every February 13, on Wear Red Canada day. She is an ambassador for Wear Red Canada’s annual campaign to raise awareness about women’s heart health. Emilie welcomes alums to contact her at email@example.com, and of course to sport some crimson on that special day.
We wish to acknowledge this land on which Branksome operates. For thousands of years, it has been the traditional land of the Huron-Wendat, the Seneca, and most recently, the Mississaugas of the Credit River. Today, this meeting place is still the home to many Indigenous peoples from across Turtle Island and we are grateful to have the opportunity to work and go to school on this land.