Don't Always Blame The Cancer

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Trust me, I made the mistake of blaming every symptom on my cancer.

“You aren’t having any symptoms at all?” asked my primary care physician (PCP). “There must be some. Headaches, chest pain, shortness of breath,” she continued.

Then the light dawned in my head. Yes, I had headaches but thought they were from my chronic sinusitis. The shortness of breath always plagued me and seemed to be worse. I assumed this was from both my cancer and the treatment. The same with the leg pain I was experiencing.

“No,” she shook her head. These symptoms are from your high blood pressure. I had never been on medication for high blood pressure. It had slowly been creeping upwards, but I knew this could be a side effect from the Luspatercept I am on. The headaches were getting sharper, but I blamed it on the sinus I had since I was a baby, and I was on several medications for this. I was having trouble walking and had sharp leg pains. When I looked up the side effects of the Luspatercept, which is a new medication, the first three out of four symptoms included this. I was constantly short of breath but blamed that as a huge side effect of my Myelodysplastic Syndrome. Fatigue is usually a symptom of almost any kind of cancer. When I mentioned to my oncologist about the shortness of breath, the walking and the muscle aches she said it was not from the Luspatercept. I did not believe her but let it go.

Simultaneously, I was suffering from balance problems. When I stood still, I began to fall backwards. Other problems had also popped up. I attempted to park my car in the lot at the cancer center where I get my monthly treatments. I had plenty of room but scraped the car next to me. Horrified, I notified security and an accident report was made. Again, I blamed the accident on bad driving. However, I had not ever done this in 50 years of driving.

Then a routine surgery explained it all. I was having a cataract removed and my blood pressure soared to 227/100. I was in trouble. The anesthesiologist came and told me they would give me something so I could have the surgery, but I needed to contact my PCP. This had to be under control.

I was truly frightened. I have fought this cancer for over 13 years and was darned if I would die of a stroke! My PCP saw me immediately and after she asked me all these questions, I realized the symptoms were from high blood pressure. She explained that the pressure can rise gradually since I had small increments of the pressure getting higher and then all of a sudden do what I named “exploding.” Meanwhile, I was blaming cancer for everything! The PCP and I have been working together with medications and diet and the pressure has come down considerably. My symptoms are improving, and I am carefully monitoring my blood pressure daily. I am happy to say the headaches are much better, my balance is good and walking does not cause as much shortness of breath. Oh – and my accident just might have been cataracts. Since I have had both of them removed, I have been amazed at how much my depth perception has improved.

Cancer tends to consume us because of the dangers of the treatments and side effects we experience daily. I learned a valuable lesson. I was fortunate to have a couple of surgeries to figure out what was going on, plus excellent medical care.

The moral of the story is that while cancer can be blamed for many things it may not always be the reason for feeling lousy. We need to remember this.

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