Friday, April 24, 2015

My Side Effects: Chest Pain and Heartburn

Although six months have passed since my final chemo treatment (hurrah!), there were several posts I drafted during chemo and never got around to posting because I was too exhausted to keep up. So here I am, half-a-year later, finally getting around to updating those drafts. I figure a few after-the-fact posts are okay.

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Chest pain and heartburn. Not exactly the same.

Throughout the course of my cancer adventure, the reasons for my chest pain varied.

At first, it was probably the tumors growing under my sternum. Plus, my anxiety facing the possibility of a difficult diagnosis. Although "pain" isn't the right word for what I initially felt. In some notes I wrote in preparation for my first doctor appointment (weeks before a CT scan revealed Tiny's friends), I described the sensation as "pressure."

During the passing weeks, the pressure increased. Wearing my normal clothes hurt. My shirts strangled me, dresses deprived me of precious O2, camisoles constricted my chest, my bras were too tight. I might as well have worn a corset all laced up, like that one variation of Snow White in which the queen gives her a cursed corset and the ribbons lace up so tight she can't breathe.



I often unclasped my bra to relieve the pressure, even if I was in public. Later, I gave up and stopped wearing a bra, which posed other problems. Both options led to embarrassment. Whatever. A girl's gotta do what's a girl's gotta do to breathe. (See below for my eventual solution to this conundrum.)

I also read that chest pain is a symptom of anemia. Considering I was moderately anemic throughout my chemoification, this seems a viable reason for my discomfort.

Once chemo started, heartburn affected me. I was resistant to accept the heartburn theory for a while. Heartburn is for old people. Not someone in her late 20's. It's difficult to accept that one's body is not as healthy or strong as one would like it to be, which I'm sure is true no matter one's age.

Another reason I resisted accepting that I had heartburn is because the pain I experienced wasn't a burning sensation. (Semantics cause so much trouble.) 
I personally think the term "burn" is misleading. Burning is fire and heat. Maybe some people experience this, just not me. I felt crushing chest pain. As if my heart had been transplanted with a sea urchin.


Um...minus the spikes.


Yeah. Something like that.

There were only a few times when I could say, "Oo! Yup, that's heart burn." Yucky stomach acidity.

My Solutions

—Prescription strength antacid. Worked like a charm! As soon as I started taking it daily*, the chest pains diminished. The only exception was a couple days during treatment #10 and #11 when my dietary choices upset my stomach. What can I say? I love pizza rolls! Bonus, around the time I started taking the antacid, the horrific mouth burning significantly decreased. Correlation or coincidence? I don't care as long as I could eat food with minimal pain! 
(*Initially I thought I only needed to take the antacid on chemo weekends. After consulting a pharmacist and my oncologist, both recommended taking it daily for maximum effectiveness until chemo ended.)

—Purchased new shirts and tank tops that were a size or two larger than I normally like to wear.

—As for the bra issue, I had to make my own. That's right. I made my own bra. Nothing in the market or on the Internet matched what I needed (believe me, I looked). Sports bras were too tight. Bra extenders were still too tight. Camisoles with so-called built-in bras were too thin. As I mentioned, going braless posed other problems because I can get rather, uh, perky. (Walking from 100+ degree heat into a chilly, air conditioned store will do that to a person.) I needed something loose, easy to slip on, and with enough padding to prevent embarrassing situations. So I bought an inexpensive wireless bra, did some cutting and sewing, and voilá! The final creation was the most comfortable, magical, marvelous bra I've ever worn/made/owned. It's not perfect, but it worked. Six months later, I still enjoy wearing it from time to time.

Further Reading

Every person is different and their experiences will vary from mine. Always discuss your particular symptoms and concerns with your doctor.

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