It Is Not Always the Cancer

A cancer survivor recalls the scary moment she experienced what she thought was a new life-threatening side effect.

Last year I wrote an article “Please Quit Telling Me It’s Not the Cancer.”It talked about how many side effects come from cancer and treatments, and doctors not recognizing or admitting that to patients.

I have a slightly different perspective now. Yes, many side effects are caused, and I know I became even more convinced when I heard about the long-haul patients who are suffering unknown and unexpected side effects from COVID-19. Many of the treatments are recent, and researchers are continually finding more side effects and problems. However, these same treatments are keeping many of us alive.

Recently I noticed I was increasingly short of breath. In medical terms, this is abbreviated as SOB – and does not mean medical professionals are talking badly about the patient!

Initially, I thought my SOB was from the red cells not performing, which is inherent in my kind of cancer. It became worse when exerting myself or in bed to go to sleep. I finally mentioned it to my internist, who immediately ordered a chest X-ray. Before I arrived home, a call came from her staff asking me if I had ever been a smoker. My answer was no, then they asked me if I had been around secondhand smoke, and again, the answer was no. I asked why they were inquiring and they told me my lungs were slightly enlarged. The doctor was considering a referral to a pulmonologist or a pulmonary function test.

As I began to get scared, tingling started all over my body. To me, this felt like déjà vu. When I was diagnosed with cancer over 10 years prior, I was blindsided.I never dreamed it was cancer since I was sure the anemia was related to one of my frequent infections. When I found out it was incurable cancer, my life changed drastically.

Now I was certain the SOB going to develop into something far worse. Would it be emphysema, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or another lung condition causing me to drag around an oxygen tank? My vivid imagination began to work overtime and I went to the worst scenarios, a total opposite of my blasé attitude 10 years ago.

By the time I saw my oncologist, I had worked myself up into frenzy and was in tears. She was very empathetic and told me that even if it was emphysema, this had no relation to myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), which is my type of cancer. She finally got me calmed down and ran a pulmonary function test and an echocardiogram to rule out any serious problems. By a strange twist of fate, I had acquired a prolonged and nasty sinus infection lasting for three weeks, which was making my SOB worse. Once the tests were administered, the infection subsided, and I calmed down, the SOB was much better.

I am still short of breath, but it is not anything I cannot handle at this point. My fears gradually dissipated and by the next appointment I was much better.I remarked to my oncologist that I thought cancer would probably get me before the lungs and she agreed.

Once I stopped stressing and sat back, I realized I was not in another nightmare. I didn’t have another awful side effect. I just needed to relax and go on.

I think we cancer survivors should not be hard on ourselves. We realize how short and precious life is. We know people who were diagnosed with cancer and passed from something else. Others live longer than anticipated. Diseases like COVID-19 came along and scared all of us. Life is a gamble in many ways and we’re never certain how the end game will play out. What we do know is that we have today and need to grab on to that and make the most of it!

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