THE BLOG
11/22/2016 09:45 am ET Updated Nov 24, 2017

How I Help My Mom Rise Above Heart Failure

There are some moments in life that stick with you. Through my career, I've shared many of these moments with the public. And then there are the moments that are just mine, for me to keep for myself and my family. These I rarely share. However I want to share one of these personal moments for National Family Caregivers Month. It's one that will always stand out with me and my family, and it may resonate with others going through similar situations. It's the day my mom was diagnosed with heart failure, and the moment I became her caregiver and advocate-in-chief.

Heart failure is a condition where the heart cannot pump enough blood around the body. It affects nearly 6 million in the U.S., including my mom. It's estimated that 1 in 5 people over the age of 40 will develop heart failure in their lifetime. When you consider all the people who are caring for those with the condition, the number of people this disease touches multiplies.

I remember the day my mom was diagnosed like it was yesterday. I got a call that my healthy, 40-something mother who loved her job as an art teacher, had passed out at school. I immediately rushed to the hospital, worried, scared and prepared for the worst. After a barrage of tests, and hours of waiting, we got the diagnosis of heart failure. I think the failure part was hardest to hear that day. All your life you try to avoid failure, but then there it was right next to my mom's heart.

Keeping in touch with my mom's doctors has been key to helping us stay on track with her medications and making necessary lifestyle changes.

Over time, I gradually took on the role of caregiver to my mom, along with other members of my family. Caring for the woman who not only raised me, but made me who I am, is not the type of thing that I take lightly. It also comes with its own unique set of challenges. But I realized that as with most things in life, it's all about attitude and gratitude. We were both scared when we first got the diagnosis, but my mom always said you can't let fear paralyze you. You get up, dust yourself off and keep it moving. So I did just that, with an unwavering resolve to get mom better. We boldly took on a "we got this" approach to taking on heart failure. Talking to the doctors, we were thankful to learn that there were a lot of things my mom could do to help manage her condition -- and things that I could do to support her. Keeping in touch with my mom's doctors has been key to helping us stay on track with her medications and making necessary lifestyle changes.

We learned that to manage heart failure, it is so important to eat a heart healthy diet, to watch the salt, exercise, and keep her blood pressure under control. We check food labels to make sure we're minimizing the salt in our diets and cut out sweets. I had to learn how to tell mom no, which was hard at first. Even when she was in the hospital, people would bring her cakes, cookies and candies. As my mom's advocate-in-chief, I had to enforce a hard line and tell them -- and my mom -- that this stuff is not allowed! Now we eat healthy every day, we go on walks together and we watch for small changes in her weight, which might mean she is retaining water.

The truth is, caregiving can be hard. Like most things in life, there is a certain element of trial and error. When I look back, I realized I've learned a lot from my past experiences. Like anybody else, my mom and I are human. We're not perfect, and we've made mistakes along the way. But over time we found ways to adjust what we were doing to make life easier on my mom, and on me. We also keep things positive, and look for the joy in the new things we're doing together, like walking around the neighborhood and gardening.

One thing my mom and I always remember is that knowledge is power.

One thing my mom and I always remember is that knowledge is power. We had to learn the symptoms to look out for and had to ask a lot of questions. For instance, a lot of people don't even notice the signs of heart failure, or just chalk it up to old age. But symptoms such as shortness of breath when climbing the stairs, swelling of feet and ankles, lack of appetite, or even feeling tired and light-headed are all warning signs. That's why we want to share what we've learned with others who might be going through the same situation. Together, we're working with the American Heart Association's Rise Above Heart Failure initiative to help educate others about heart failure, its risk factors and symptoms. I was honored when my efforts to promote heart health were recognized by the Association of Black Cardiologists with the Distinguished Health Advocate Award. I'm grateful my mom and I are able to help others in this way.

My mom has been living with heart failure for the past 10 years. I am proud of how she's been able to rise above this challenge, and am thankful that she is doing so well today. I also learned that as important as it is for me to take care of my mom, I also have to take care of myself. It's so important to arm yourself with knowledge on how you and your loved ones can fight heart failure, and you can find more information from the American Heart Association here. As my mom says, "You can't change the past but you can change your future. You get only one shot at this body, so take care of it." I know I'm going to do just that, and I hope you will too.

Queen Latifah is an award-winning actress, singer, songwriter and producer. She is a spokesperson for the American Heart Association's Rise Above Heart Failure initiative, which seeks to spread the word about heart failure and to help others understand the signs and symptoms of the condition, and how to manage it. Rise Above Heart Failure is nationally supported by Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation.