Dana Morris is a new kind of patient. She is an onco-cardiology patient; one who is being treated for both cancer and heart issues. Certainly, many patients have faced both these issues in the past, but the specific field of onco-cardiology - and the designation of these patients as such - is still fairly new.
In Morris' case, the "cancer patient" designation came first. In September of 2012, the 44-year old had a regular mammogram. "On the right side, it really hurt," she remembers. The results came back normal, but Morris was still having discomfort. And at the end of October, she felt a lump. A biopsy revealed that she had breast cancer.
"The surgeon went back and looked at the original mammogram and saw that it was there. It was missed because [the breast tissue] was dense. The surgeon said it was like looking for a polar bear in a snowstorm." Morris started a regimen of 16 weeks of chemotherapy, which she finished March 6, 2013. She's now considered "cured," and continues to have mammograms every six months.
The chemotherapy helped save Morris, but paradoxically, it was because of the chemotherapy that she became a cardiology patient. "Dr. Dan Simon, an absolutely amazing cardiologist at [University Hospitals], told me that one of the chemo drugs that I was on can cause heart issues," Morris explains. "He suggested I go see an onco-cardiologist. I went to see Dr. Guilherme Oliveira, who ran some tests. Everything is okay, in the scheme of things, but he will continue to watch me for years and years. Maybe forever, to see if anything changes."
Morris has thought a lot about the connection that may exist between the chemo drug she took and the potential to develop heart issues. "If I had known that particular drug could cause heart problems, I still would have gone on it. Reluctantly, but yes. For the type of cancer I had it's the most aggressive. It's the protocol treatment for what I had."
Still, she wishes she had known. "I've found that doctors really focus on their specialty." This realization has given Morris some insight that she's eager to share with others.
"Be an educated patient," Morris urges. "Ask questions. I went with a notebook to every doctor's appointment. You see so many doctors and get so much information. And bring someone else if you can. Having two more ears is helpful."
But, she cautions, make sure the information you get is reliable. Morris, for instance, did not go on the Internet to find information on her condition. "You can drive yourself crazy by doing that," she says. "And no one is having the exact same experience you are. Instead, get a second opinion. Don't be afraid to go to doctors because they could be the ones saving your life."