February is heart month, a time of year chosen by the American Heart Association to encourage women to protect themselves against their number one killer; heart disease.
Thursday, The Heart Association kicked off the month with it's 10th annual "Go Red for Women" luncheon in Bay City.
A heart disease survivor shares her story and is now committed to spreading a heart-healthy message to save the lives of other women.
" P eople don't see it as a sickness they look at you and you're ok , " says Saginaw resident, Cynthia Essex.
About s ix months ago, Cynthia thought everything was ok. Then...
" I passed out right outside the doors of the church , " recalls Essex.
After a week of not feeling herself, the Saginaw mom was hurried to the hospital to find out she had an enlarged heart.
" H ad none of the things you would be pre-warned up until this point . "
That's a common theme for many women who find out they're living with heart disease.
" W e need to be educated on that so we can recognize this is a heart attack or a sign of a congenital heart defect or it's a sign of something going wrong with our heart ," explains Stacy Sawyer of the American Heart Association.
Signs often overlooked include shortness of breath, an aching jaw, back pain, sweating and chest pressure.
Prevention is as easy as getting exercise. The American Heart Association recommends approximately 150 minutes a week. They also advise having a heart-healthy diet and not smoking.
" I t's ok to take care of yourself first , " says Sawyer.
And in C ynthia's case she takes that message to hear t for the health of it.
"I have to continue to fight so we don't unnecessarily lose women to this disease."
Heart Disease claims more women's lives than all cancers combined.
Friday is National Wear Red Day, so advocates encourage people to wear red.
The events continue Saturday for the Red Dress Dash at the Genesee Valley Center in Flint Township beginning at 10a.m.