Matters of the heart

Before I can have Tuesday’s drug cocktail, I had to get a heart scan to measure the functionality of my third-most vital organ. (The first two being my brain and my stomach, since I need my stomach to eat burritos.) This is an important part of the process, because when it comes to treating something like cancer, nothing is benign – and my chemotherapy regimen has a nasty little habit of occasionally causing heart damage. Since I plan on hanging onto this heart for another 70 years or so, it’s important that we keep tabs on how it’s handling everything.

I had a choice between a MUGA scan and an echocardiogram. The MUGA involves an intravenous radioactive injection that’s traced throughout the body using a big scanning device, while the echocardiogram is a simple ultrasound. I opted for the echo – no needles, no radioactivity, just a few minutes with a painless ultrasound wand, right? No. Wrong.

This is the second time ultrasounds have tricked me, the first being my unpleasant surprise transvaginal procedure at the fertility doc, and I’m officially OVER IT. Next time, I’m getting the MUGA.

First, the procedure takes a full hour. That’s an hour of laying on your side while an ultrasound tech jabs you in the boobs, all the while leaning their full weight onto you and rolling what feels like a dirty softball up and down your ribcage. It was extremely uncomfortable, to the point of outright pain at times.

Think we’re done there? Of course not! Since I have big ol’ fake boobies, it was tough for the tech to get a good angle to see my heart wall and measure the functionality of my cardiac muscle. In order to get a clearer picture, we needed to repeat the echo using a contrast dye. A nurse came in, fitted me with yet another IV and injected a weird, bubbly liquid into my arm. My heart lit up like a fireworks display, and I was jabbed with the giant ultrasound wand yet again – this time up under my sternum. Good times, y’all, good times.

The tech apologized profusely (and noted that my discomfort was probably because I’m so thin – I’ll take compliments wherever I can get ’em, folks!), but the funniest part to me was that she really went out of her way to try to keep my breasts covered while she was jamming this wand in between every single one of my ribs. I’m so incredibly over people seeing my boobs, it’s hard to believe. I barely even think of my body as something private anymore. It’s not mine; it belongs to the doctors. I’ve heard this sentiment expressed by other cancer survivors, and it’s probably the experience I relate to the most. I feel like a medical specimen – but even so, there’s something that fascinates me about seeing into all the hidden areas of my body, getting to see my uterus and my heart and my lymph nodes lit up on scanning machines all the time.

My mom and I often joke about my ability to detach from even the most unpleasant medical procedures and look at the proceedings with awe and curiosity. I’ve always had this weird fascination with medicine. It started when I was a kid, and we had this big red book full of medical information that my mom would bust out whenever my brother and I had a fever or a sore throat. There was no Internet (I know, there was a time before the Internet? And I was alive for it? WTF), so the Big Red Book was all we had, and I think I read it cover to cover.

When I was an adolescent, when I wasn’t watching Degrassi: The Next Generation, I’d be sitting enraptured by disgusting shows on Discovery Health like Trauma: Life in the ER. I was amazed at the punishment the human body could take. I was fascinated that from a single cell, we could become organisms full of functional organs and beating hearts and inflating lungs. When my dad’s gallbladder was removed, he asked the surgeon to take pictures for me, which was weirdly sweet of him. Not only did I receive a full set of bizarre images of my dad’s innards, I even got a little bottle full of his gallbladder stones. Sick, right? I KNOW, you guys, I know – but isn’t it amazing, the way we work? What a precarious balance this life is. Any number of things can go wrong at any second – every moment of it is precious. And yet, I still spent seven hours yesterday mainlining episodes of House of Cards of Netflix. I regret nothing.

11 thoughts on “Matters of the heart

  1. I hope the results were all good…sorry to hear about the discomfort. 😦

  2. No modesty here either. Amazing what a little breast cancer will do. And I always say I feel like a science project. Much love and luck to you.

  3. ubensmom says:

    Fingers crossed for your heart. I just learned to ask what is the easiest route from your post so thank you. I’m in Europe and feel sure that all of central Europe has seen my boobs. It’s the magnificence I feel sure. The cool scars just add to the appeal.

    • Michelle says:

      Normally the echo doesn’t require the contrast, so don’t worry about that. I can’t speak to the MUGA since I’ve never had one. The radiation still makes me a tad uncomfortable, so honestly, I may do the echo again next time even though it was unpleasant.

  4. Ann says:

    I had MUGA scans every three months during treatment–Dana-Farber didn’t offer the option of an echo. My favorite moment was when a technician gave me a little card to present to airport security that confirmed that my radiation readings were within limits set by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Oh, the hidden joys of cancer treatment! Sadly, I didn’t get to use it.

  5. Sorry about the discomfort! My oldest daughter has a congenital heart defect, has to have an echo ever six months. She definitely prefers that over the stress test!

  6. Daile says:

    Degrassi! Yes! I watched Degrassi Junior High growing up (showing my age here)

    Hope it all goes as well as possible and you don’t have to deal with too many more uncomfortable tests!

  7. lisacng says:

    I would have thought an ultrasound to be pretty easy too. Sorry girl! Oh, and the transvaginal ultrasound freaked me out the first time too. That’s not how they show it on TV ;).

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