How the side effects of radiation therapy almost killed me, and kept me from eating turkey.
Ryan Hamner is a four-time survivor of Hodgkin lymphoma, a musician and a writer. In 2011, he wrote and recorded, "Where Hope Lives" for the American Cancer Society and the song for survivors, "Survivors Survive" used in 2015 for #WorldCancerDay. Currently, he operates his website for those affected by cancer, 2surviveonline.com and drinks a ridiculous amount of coffee per day.
In 2006, I was 30 years old, things were pretty friggin’ awesome for the most part. I was playing music all over, had a small online business and didn’t have any signs of cancer. I had scared it off. I had no larger-than-average lymph nodes, well, none that hadn’t already been treated. I wasn’t having night sweats, low grade fevers, everything was good.
Then came Christmas Day, my favorite holiday. I had a bit of a runny nose, but nothing major. I remember clearly: I was sitting down at my grandparent’s house waiting on the rest of the family to arrive for our Christmas lunch. I was pretty sure it was going to be just another nice Christmas—a Christmas where I ate good food, opened all kinds of nice gifts, hung out with my family and went home and crashed from the sugar overload. Oh, and a Christmas where I didn’t fall out onto the floor unconscious (foreshadowing).
So yeah, as you were probably thinking, because I pretty much told you so, I fell out onto the floor unconscious as I stood up to go help my grandmother move something. I had gone into ventricular tachycardia. I won’t explain, just the thought of it makes my palms sweaty. I’ll just say, if you didn't already know, it’s kinda’ serious. Oh, and it really sucks, too.
The next thing I knew, I had EMTs standing over me. They quickly snatched me up off of the floor, strapped me onto a stretcher, put me in the back of an ambulance and took me to the emergency room. No, I was not given any turkey and I didn’t open any gifts. I was in total shock, not because of the whole no turkey and no gifts thing, but because I had no idea what had just happened. I mean, I had just worked out the day before.
Many times when people say, "to make a long story short," the story just gets longer. Seriously though, to make a long story short, I had myocarditis and I was in the midst of a life-threatening heart event. It was partly my fault and partly radiation therapy's fault. Oh, and cancer, yeah, you jerk!
It was radiation therapy's fault because it had damaged my heart, making me more susceptible to all of these heart issues that I was experiencing for Christmas. i.e. "Merry Christmas!—Floor." I must have been awful that year! And it was my fault because I wasn’t seeing a cardiologist regularly like I probably should have been after my years of treatment for cancer.
When all was said and done, and to make a long story short again, I ended up spending time in two different ICUs in the state of Georgia. I had ridiculously hot fevers that made me feel like I was going to spontaneously combust at any moment. I got to enjoy an ambulance trip to St. Joseph’s in Atlanta, where I was told I might not live through the night, I didn’t get one single Christmas gift, any turkey and I didn’t even get a lousy t-shirt.
I’m not saying that if I had been seeing a cardiologist regularly this all could have been avoided, but at least maybe I would have had a better idea of the overall picture of my heart health. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy wreak havoc on the body as we all know. So learn about your treatments and their side effects, not just the immediate ones, but the side effects that can hit you years later, on Christmas Day when all you want to do is stay conscious and eat some turkey.