Joannie Rochette wonders why her mom didn't seek help
CTV.ca News Staff
Published Wednesday, March 31, 2010 7:43PM EDT
Joannie Rochette still feels angry. Not because her mother died just days before Joannie was due to skate at the Vancouver Olympics. But because her mother knew she was sick, and didn't ask anyone for help.
As most of Canada knows, Therese Rochette died of a massive heart attack just days before Rochette's bronze medal-winning skate. And though Therese was only 55 years old, she had been battling the effects of heart disease for years.
She suffered from chest pains, was on medication for high blood pressure, and had been feeling tired for weeks before her death.
But Rochette only learned later that her mother had become so worried about her health in her final weeks that she had written down her symptoms on a small piece of paper and placed it in her wallet. She had pain in her left shoulder, she wrote, and numbness in the lips, as well as constant water retention.
Perhaps Therese planned to talk to her doctor about her symptoms after she got back from Vancouver. Of course, she never got the chance.
"I was really mad at her for not talking to me about that or not telling us, ‘We're going to the hospital.' She never went to the doctor for her heart," Rochette told CTV's Canada AM on Wednesday. She said she knew her mother wasn't well in her final days.
"She was really tired before she passed away. She couldn't walk, she had to sit down in the middle of the street. She fell asleep on the train -- and my mother was not like that," she remembered.
But Rochette suspects her mother didn't want to distract her family right before the biggest moment of her daughter's athletic career.
"She didn't want to go to the hospital; she didn't want to scare anyone," she said.
Rochette says her mother should have known she had a genetic disposition for heart disease. Therese's own father had had a heart attack at 50. (He survived and is still alive today.) What's more, Therese had been smoking for more than 40 years.
It was a habit that enraged her daughter. While Joannie strove for athletic excellence, she was frustrated that her own mother didn't take better care of herself.
"I had to fight with her all the time," Rochette said.
"She had been smoking since she was 12 years old. And I understand how hard it is to stop smoking because I lived it and tried to stop my mother. That's one thing I'll never regret. We were fighting a lot about it but I'll never forget the fights we had about it."
Now, with her mother gone, Rochette is working to try to prevent heart disease from taking the lives of other women. She's teamed up with the Heart and Stroke Foundation and will appear at the Heart Truth fashion show this week, to raise awareness of heart disease in women.
She'll be walking the catwalk at Toronto's LG Fashion Week, wearing a red, one-shoulder dress designed specifically for her by Montreal designer, Nadya Toto. Rochette says she didn't hesitate to be part of the show.
"When I got back from Vancouver, I told my agent right away that I'd like to get involved in heart disease, because it's close to my heart and it's something I really believe in," she said.
Once the runway show is over, Rochette will leave for Florida, where she'll appear in two shows in "Stars on Ice." Then it's off to Japan, where she is headlining shows there, before returning to Canada for still more "Stars on Ice" performances.
Though Rochette hasn't slowed down since the Olympics ended, she says she's not sure she even wants to.
"A lot of people are wondering how I can do all this right now. And it is really tough. But my job is not a 9-to-5 job. I cannot leave and come back whenever I want. It's different. And right now, I feel like skating. Because that's where I feel the most alive."
The 24-year-old, who is an only child, says she also wants to be with her skating friends, many of whom she's toured with for years.
"It's going to be hard at times, but I'm going to have a good support group around me. To get busy and get back into a normal daily routine is really good for me. And when things like that happen, you have the choice to either stay at home or just get up and try to do something. And I choose that option because that's the kind of person I was raised to be," she said.
As Rochette skates, she thinks of her mother, who was her part-time coach and manager, as well as her full-time biggest fan.
"When I'm doing shows, I do feel closer to her. I can hear her voice; I can hear her comments on my skating. She was very tough on me, but I can hear her," she said.