Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The beat goes on.....

This Friday is a big day for me.

Back in 2007-08, I was trying to get back to a 'normal' quality of life after successfully completing Breast Cancer chemo & rads.  I started to experience extreme shortness of breath.  Climbing a few stairs, walking up a slight incline, carrying slightly heavy objects, etc., caused me to stop to catch my breath.  Lying down was impossible at bed time.  Constant cough and rattly breathing.

I was sent to the hospital for an echo cardiogram.  The Technician kept asking me if I was having any chest pains.  I said "no".  She said, "don't you have any pain right now?".  Again I said "no", but a bit apprehensively.  I asked why.  She didn't directly answer me, instead she excused herself to get the hospital Cardiologist to come in.  He looked at the echo screen.  Then asked me about being in pain, and am I short of breath.  I say, "no pain, not feeling short of breath lying here right now, but in general that's why I'm here... why??".  He said I have Cardiomyopathy and my mitral valve is not closing, causing a backwash effect.  Poor heart function.  He added I need to find a Cardiologist very soon.  If I have any pain, or feel in distress in the meantime, to call 911.  He added that based on my medical history, this type of heart disease is caused by a combination of radiation and chemo treatments.

So, I found a cardiologist.  Learned I was in congestive heart failure.  Got started on meds to control my heart rate and blood pressure.

Over these past few years, my heart got better.  At initial diagnosis, my ejection fraction was just under 30%.  It then gained efficiency and last year's ejection fraction was 40%.  [heart ejection fraction is the measurement of how well the heart is pumping]  Cleveland Clinic explains it quite well

This past December, my ejection fraction was again down to 30%.  Additionally, my heart has been beating irregularly and fast (> 110) at rest.  A bad combination which landed me in the hospital with congestive heart failure.

During that stay it was decided by my cardiologists and myself to have a pacemaker defibrillator installed.  This particular unit is called a BiV-Fibrillator.  There will be 3 leads placed on my heart to control the irregular beating and help improve my ejection fraction.  It will also jolt my heart, if needed, as a defibrillator, should my heart suddenly stop beating.  The Dr told me it will feel like being kicked in the chest by a very large horse.  Well then.... let's all drink to that never happening!

Since my Breast Cancer did not leave much meat on these bones, she will be placing the unit - about the size of a small hockey puck - under my left pectoral muscle.  She added that I won't be able to lift more than 3-5 lbs or reach above my shoulder on the left for the next few weeks.  Great..... it's the only hand/arm that works!  And you know when the Dr tells you its going to hurt.... its really going to f'n hurt.  :(

My Dr added that she expects I will feel a difference within 90 days.... Possibly be back to 40% ejection fraction.  :)  I'll take it!

So.... there you have it - more cancer treatment collateral damage.... another scar to add to my collection of many.  Another of countless reasons to insist our medical care givers gain the knowledge needed to understand the cancer survivor's challenges.  A life saved through such harsh treatments, should be able to live that life with quality, not fear.

Stay strong,



  1. I didn't realize that -- like other friends of mine - your current breast cancer may have resulted from the first treatment for Hodgkins Disease? That is like kicking a girl when she's down.

    I'm so glad you're better now. Mary Knudson who is a national award winning medical and science writer, has a great book on congestive heart disease, "Living Well with Heart Failure." I met Mary on Twitter. She was diagnosed with heart faiulre in 2002; is doing well now.

    Thanks for writing,

  2. Thanks Jody - I appreciate the info on Mary Knudson.
    Yes.... My Breast Cancer in 2005 was the result of the mantle rads I had in 1983. I decided on the double mastectomy, even though my tumors were only spotted in the right breast. Pathology found precancerous cells in the left breast, so I'm glad it's gone too. A solid decision for sure!