I feel like every day some new chemo side effect is coming to take hold of my life again. And as I sit here waiting for my echo stress test, I worry it has finally caught up to me.
A few months ago I was finally convinced to go to the doctor after having several weeks of pretty bad vertigo spells, which is rare for me. I had them occasionally in college, and then throughout treatment on an awful day I would get one – but nothing this consistent. So after calling any medical professional I know and continuously being yelled at for not finding a primary care doctor, I finally found a random clinic and went.
To say I was terrified to visit a doctor was an understatement. Shockingly, having to explain my whole medical history as if it were a list of facts that happened and not my real life didn’t appeal to me. But I went. I drove myself to the middle of nowhere and sat in a waiting room for an hour before being seen.
Finally, I was seen – I promise this has a point – and I walked this doctor through my whole medical history and eventually got to the reason I was there. Vertigo.
She nodded her head and asked if there was anything else bothering me. So I casually mentioned that a week ago I had a strange chest pain that shot all the way down my left arm. And like any good millennial, rather than call 911 I had my fiance WebMD what it feels like for a female to have a heart attack. Luckily the pain stopped before the page loaded.
It was a little nerve-wracking. I mean, I’ve had a good amount of chemo pumped through my body, so you have to wonder when that will catch up to you. And before you say anything, I’ve had heartburn – this was not heartburn.
Needless to say, the doctor was not thrilled that I had waited over a week to bring it up, and to be honest, hadn’t planned on bringing it up. She recommended doing an EKG right there, and after debating the potential cost, I agreed to it. (Side note: How sad is that? We shouldn’t have to debate having a test that could save our life because insurance won’t cover it.)
They put the spider electrodes on, I breathed in and out, and the machine printed out a pink paper that told the doctor exactly what my heart was doing (or I mean, something like that). A few minutes later, the doctor came in and said everything was fine, I was normal, and to wait in the waiting room while she wrote my discharge note.
After about 15 minutes of waiting (impatiently), the doctor peeked outside the door and asked me to step into her office. She had me sit down (which, honestly, isn’t the best way to start a conversation), and told me she made a mistake.
After reviewing the scan further, she saw that there was some mild abnormality with my heart rhythm.
I know it’s not a big thing. I knew in some part of my brain it was nothing. That I had been under a lot of stress and had been on a big coffee kick (which I had admitted to her). But seeing her face, and hearing her tell me I needed to do an echo stress test within the next three days was horrifying.
My world stopped spinning. All I could think was, “Here we go again.” Just as I’m finally rounding the bend of a chemo-free life, my heart decides to say “screw it.”
I waited another 20 minutes while she finished typing up the discharge instructions and the referral, and then I got in my car and cried. I hate driving while crying so I figured it would be best just to sit and get it all out.
I sobbed. I was terrified that just as I was in the clear, I would be headed back down again. And I couldn’t handle it again. I liked the freedom.
Eventually, I somehow got home. And what did I do when I got home? I Googled “What is an echo stress test” and then “do any chemo drugs hurt your heart” and, of course, the drug that kept coming up was one of the drugs that had a significant role in my protocol.
It’s hard: you think that you’re out of the woods and you’re done being sick. But then a doctor (who you’ve never met) tells you something new could be wrong and that it’s your heart this time. I’m not stupid; I knew going into this that I would come out with an extensive list of side effects and that my body would never be the same. But here I am. Finally in my first year without chemo, and this doctor tells me I need to make sure my heart is working.
And sure, I could’ve been overreacting. It might not have been a weak heart; the EKG could’ve been some fluke because I was stressed out about the EKG or because I had coffee that morning. But now that I’ve been down this road of almost dying I feel like my brain automatically goes “it’s death, it’s the chemo, it’s bad things. It’s because I drink too much coffee, or because my electrolytes are out of balance, or because I was stressed out. It’s clearly that my heart’s weakened.”
And in my brain of brains, even through the chemo brain fog, I’m sure it’s not. I know it’s fine. But this is life after chemo, and this is just how your brain works.
Want to know what happens next? You’ll have to come back next week to find out how I made it through the hallway of cancer wings, and into the Echo Lab – and how I’m not as in shape as I would like to believe.