My Mastectomy Anniversary and My Heart Attack that Wasn’t a Heart Attack

I was feeling somewhat celebratory earlier this week since it was my two year bilateral mastectomy anniversary on May 21st.  I read somewhere that making it past the two year mark without recurrence is a considerable milestone.  I’ll take it, but I’m not counting those chickens just yet.  I am a fighter but also have a healthy respect for superstition.  I am so thankful to my friends and family and all my pink warrior sisters for standing by me and lifting me up.

This is going to sound so cliché, but it is always fucking something. Late Tuesday night, around 11 p.m. I started getting sharp pains on the left side of my chest.  The pain also radiated across to my shoulder.  I know what you’re thinking because yeah that’s what I was thinking.  HEART ATTACK.  So I tried lying in different positions but nothing was helping.  I don’t have any personal or family history of heart problems, no high blood pressure or cholesterol.  I don’t even think I’ve ever had heartburn.  But by the morning I was pretty freaked out.  Tomas has had a really bad flu these past few days so I told him I was going to drive myself to the ER.  He suggested I start with Urgent Care and even though I knew that was a pointless and useless idea I did it.  Of course during my examination the nurse practitioner asked me “why did you come here and not the ER?”  Me: “um…..” So against their advice I drove myself the two miles or so to John C. Lincoln North Mountain.  Tomas was very sick and I was not going to ask him to drive me the two miles in his condition and I was closer to the hospital than he was. I texted Lili to to let her know what was going on. She asked me what does against medical advice mean? I told her it means I don’t want to pay a few hundred dollars for ambulance transport.

 When I got to the ER of course it was filled with what appeared to be a bunch of people who did not look the least bit sick and meanwhile I could be having a heart attack. I was taken back quickly and given an EKG.  No heart attack.  Okay then, riddle me this, why does it feel like there is an ice pick stuck in my chest?  No I am not exaggerating.  I like to think I’m pretty tough but this was like no pain I have ever encountered.  I was going to pass out.  I asked the nurse if I could stay in the room on the table after the EKG and she said no sorry, we might need it for a cardiac patient.  “Can’t I stay here until then?”  “Um no, I’m sorry.”  “You mean SORRY, NOT SORRY.” Bitch.  I was ushered into a second waiting room with more people who, again, mostly did not look very sick to me.  Well, except the lady who may or may not have had a broken leg.  The pain was so bad I started panicking.  And crying.  Sobbing.  Choke-sobbing, which was making the pain worse.  Nobody made eye contact with me.  In fact everyone pretty much acted like I wasn’t there.  Nurses literally walked right by obviously making a concerted effort to not notice me.  I guess until it’s your turn you just do not exist.  Finally someone took pity on me and found a room for me.  As long as you’re well enough to howl in pain it’s not considered a real emergency.  After a while they finally gave me IV Morphine and Toradol which is an antiinflammatory.  Then they had to give me MORE Morphine.  That was when I started to be taken seriously and not like some psycho howler monkey.  During this time I keep thinking what the fuck is this?  Is it a tumor?  Is it cancer metastasis?  Because once you’ve had cancer, that’s how your mind works.  I think I’ve been doing pretty well with my anxiety about recurrence.  The panicky feelings may not be as acute now, two years later, but they are still there.

More tests were performed, chest CT, echocardiogram, and blood work.  Cardiac enzymes were elevated.  I had a cardiology and infectious disease consult and they both concluded I had pericarditis which according to the American Heart Association is described as follows:
“inflammation of the pericardium, two thin layers of a sac-like tissue that surrounds the heart, holds it in place and helps it work. A small amount of fluid keeps the layers separate so that there’s no friction between them. A common symptom of pericarditis is chest pain, caused by the sac’s layers becoming inflamed and possibly rubbing against the heart. It may feel like pain from a heart attack.”  No shit.

I asked what causes it. “Sometimes we don’t know what causes it but it can be caused by a virus, is there anyone sick at your house?”  “Well there’s a guy with a raging fever who’s been puking his guts out, does that count?”  So after my echocardiogram to make sure that my heart wasn’t damaged by chemotherapy or radiation, they sprung me loose yesterday.  I need to take 600 mg of ibuprofen twice a day and follow up with the cardiologist.  I do not need more doctors.  For the love of all that is holy, can I please lose some of these doctors?


Breast Cancer is Something I Shared With My Mom, Posthumously

With Mother’s Day around the corner I want to talk about my mom. She died in 2002 at the age of 55. I think as I approach my 51st birthday I find myself thinking about her. We had a good relationship albeit somewhat volatile at times. She had emotional and psychological problems that dogged her throughout her life. Her own mother abandoned my grandfather, my mother and her brother as small children. She got married at 18 to an abusive and controlling man, my father. When she was 37 and I was 18, she finally summoned the resolve to leave him. She had been a stay at home mom through most of my childhood and once my brother and I were in high school she went to work. Despite her emotional and mental baggage she was extremely successful and smart. Over the next 15 years she battled mental illness and alcoholism. In 1999 she was diagnosed with breast cancer. I didn’t know anything about staging or the different types.  She admitted the tumor had been there for years, but she was afraid to have it checked.  She was malnourished and in an unhealthy state, so much so, chemotherapy was not recommended. Plus, she was still drinking heavily. In 2002 she died and we don’t know exactly how, but it looks like maybe the cancer had returned or she had cirrhosis of the liver. I feel like I let her down but in all honesty she never wanted to listen to those who were trying to help her, or maybe she just couldn’t.

Flash forward to 2015 and there I am with breast cancer. I recalled my mom in the hospital after her single mastectomy and she was screaming in pain. Yes I said screaming. That was my limited experience with breast cancer and mastectomies. When I received my diagnosis and learned I was going to have a bilateral mastectomy, I recalled my mother’s screams and I was terrified. My last day at work before surgery was horrible. I walked around looking either like a zombie or a deer in headlights. People offered words of love and support but I felt like a death row inmate to whom people were paying their last respects. An amazing thing happened after I awoke from surgery, I was in pain, I was frightened, but I wasn’t feeling like screaming bloody murder as my mom had. It was manageable. I had done it. I was even capable of making jokes with my husband. I wished my mom was alive to see me, be there for me.  It was something we could’ve fought together.

I’ve done a lot in my life to undo the damage inflicted by my dysfunctional and abusive father. I married a man who treats me with love and respect. Equally important, he cherishes and loves our daughter. It’s a beautiful thing and I’m often jealous I missed out on that with my own father. Until I had my daughter and saw this amazing father-daughter relationship I really didn’t think about him. But after Lili was born it was hard not to. As far back as I can remember, like maybe kindergarten, I hated my father. Yes hated. He did mean things to my brother and me, playing on our fears, berating us, treating our friends like crap. Physical, emotional and mental abuse. He knew I had a paralyzing fear of insects and thought a great practical joke would be to put dead bugs under his 10 year old daughter’s pillow. Or castigating my friends and calling them losers. How are elementary school aged kids losers? And drinking. Drinking and driving. Drinking and hitting. My mother often made excuses, he is scarred from Vietnam where he served in the Marine Corps., or his parents were abusive. After a while I was like okay blah blah blah, so what? Lots of people grow up in bad situations and are not rotten bastards. I really didn’t blame her for her own drinking problem because that was probably the only way she could cope. I held great anger towards her for not protecting us from our father for many years. I let go of that anger, realizing she did the best she could with the hand she had been dealt. I’m not excusing it, but carrying the anger around doesn’t solve anything. I choose to remember her as the Girl Scout leader, soccer coach, home designer and decorator, a mom who baked cookies and made sure we did our homework, who taught us about God and how to appreciate all of His blessings. And I know she loved my brother and me, I have no doubt about that. I also know she is no longer in pain and anguish, but someplace where she is at peace, with my grandparents, my brother, and our sweet Airedale terrier Shelly. Happy Mother’s Day Mom.