A month ago I landed in the Emergency Room of our local hospital due to acute pain radiating from the left side of my chest. An echocardiogram taken earlier in the day seemed to be the culprit. The logical explanation was that the E.C.H.O. technician probed too aggressively around my left rib cage. She apparently wanted to see how much pressure I could take before I would get off the table and belt her one.
Ruling out any cardiac problems, the ER staff sent me home. I slept well the remaining few hours of that night, reassuring myself that this pain to my thorax (and figurative pain in the neck) would subside quickly. But night after night, the aching would break through my consciousness, sometimes waking me up, sometimes lurking in the background, ready to pounce like a tiger if my mind wasn’t otherwise preoccupied. I didn’t have to press on the chest to feel the sensation.
After two weeks of this intermittent ache I called my oncologist’s resource nurse at the cancer center. Pain lasting for that amount of time shouldn’t be ignored. When the oncologist examined my chest x-ray from the ER, he found no abnormalities. Nor could the nurse or I feel any lumps at the site.
No lung mets. Hallelujah! For the moment.
The likely diagnosis? Inflamed cartilage, otherwise known as costochondritis, from repeated minor trauma to the chest wall by the E.C.H.O. technician. The nurse prescribed ibuprofen for 72 hours, at which point the pain would likely subside.
But after 72 hours the sometimes-throbbing pain lingered on. I stopped the anti-inflammatory drug to avoid getting addicted. It wasn’t even cutting through all the discomfort. I can’t tell if the level of pain I now experience is lower than it was a month ago. Sometimes the pain radiates to my left arm or back, but is that stress and/or lymphedema discomfort rather than a sign of a heart attack? I can’t afford to go back to the ER if it turns out to be my heart.
When my husband gives me a hug, I hate to remind him (once again) that I am tender in that area. So sad, this reminder of the cancer from eight seemingly long years ago.
Not eager to run to my oncologist again, I’m sorting through the possibilities:
1. My version of costochondritis takes longer to heal than your average joe. All that radiation to the chest wall couldn’t have helped.
2. Uncontrollable stress in my life has caused the pain to remain longer than it ordinarily would.
3. This stubborn pain really IS a metastasis to the chest wall (although the nurse described such pain as showing up only every two weeks).
That last possibility is not one on which I wish to dwell. Dr. Google (cleverly coined by a fellow blogger) hasn’t been particularly helpful in providing trustworthy answers. Promptly tomorrow morning I will bite the bullet. I’ll ring up my resource nurse again to see what she recommends. Will it involve more tests?
Welcome to a month in the life of a woman chest-punched by cancer.
Right now I’m harboring anger toward my primary care physician, the one who ordered the E.C.H.O. in the first place. It was purely a preventative test to check my mitral valve prolapse. By his own admission I’ve likely had this cardiac condition since birth. With no symptoms of prior or existing heart troubles, why the rush to have the test? Because I had chemo and Herceptin that may have further weakened the heart?
Another reason for my anger is the cost of the offending (and unnecessary) E.C.H.O. The $1350 price tag comes fully out of my insurance deductible. Combined with the ER expenses resulting from this test, I’m looking at an out-of-pocket amount of over $2500.
I had reservations about taking the test in the first place, due to the cost and trouble. I should have stuck with my women’s intuition, and not been a compliant patient. After all, I haven’t developed any symptoms of cardiac abnormality despite the frequency and intensity of my runs and hikes. With my lifestyle risk factors being so low, I don’t imagine my heart will give out anytime soon, and neither did the ER doctor on duty that night.
In two weeks I have to confront my primary. What fun! Maybe it’s time to dump him as I did my oncologist fourteen years ago. We’ll see how he reacts to my plight.
The “wait-and-see” game doesn’t work well with people having a history of cancer. We have enough anxiety.
How do I cope? Do I try to ignore the pain and remember fun things? No, I’m out of sorts, out of ibuprofen options, out of money, and out of explanations. Wish I could adopt the old line from that happy-go-lucky song of the late eighties, “Don’t Worry, be Happy!” Or don one of those “No Fear” baseball caps. Ensuring it is pink or bears a pink ribbon. Then everything will be all right.
Have you experienced any long-lasting pains after your cancer treatment was completed? If so, how long had you been in remission before symptoms showed up? Did medical professionals reassure you, anger you, or scare you about any lingering pains?