Heather 1

Knowing that something was seriously wrong with me, I called our family physician to help me find an answer to the question that was haunting me; could I really have mesothelioma cancer?

We have a long history with Dr. Doyle. He has been our family doctor for years, and has known my husband since he was 20. He was ecstatic when we welcomed Lily into our lives, but when I made the appointment to see him about my symptoms he was quite worried.

Fortunately, I was able to get an appointment the same day I called requesting one. I explained my symptoms and it was determined that blood work needed to be done to find out why I was extremely anemic. As for the fever and other symptoms, he wanted to wait a week to see if they persisted. Since I was breast-feeding, he was reluctant to put me on any antibiotics. Instead I was prescribed iron pills to help with the anemia and was sent home.

I took the pills; they helped a little. I still had a low-grade fever every night at the same time. Not to mention the exhaustion was getting worse. The weight on my chest was still there. I was back in Dr. Doyle’s office a week later.

More blood work was done and not surprisingly things were certainly not normal. I was still anemic, though not as bad. However, the test results showed that other things in my body were off. As he looked over the results, he thought I might have a heart virus that sometimes happens to women after pregnancy. He stared at the blood work as though trying to solve some secret code. He decided to send me for an X-Ray to see if my heart was enlarged.

I had Lily with me the whole time I was at the doctor’s office. It never occurred to me that I would be there long. However, one hour then turned into two hours. The X-ray came back and didn’t show anything wrong with my heart. It did however show a fluid build up around my left lung.

Heather 2 Heather 3

Dr. Doyle is a family practitioner. He loves being a doctor and enjoys preventative and family care, but when things go wrong it is really hard on him. It’s his least favorite part of the job. He was visibly saddened when he reviewed my X-ray. He may have seen more on it, but didn’t tell me. He told me the next thing I needed to do was go to United Hospital in St. Paul, MN to see a Pulmonologist and have a procedure called a thoracentesis done. A thoracentesis is a procedure that basically sticks a long needle into your back and draws the fluid out. The fluid was causing the heaviness on my chest, which was why I was having a shortness of breath. My left lung was at less than 40% capacity. No wonder why I couldn’t breathe!

I was scheduled to work that afternoon until close. I called-in and told my co-workers what was going on. I had to take the next day off as well. I didn’t know what I was up against, but I was scared. I called my husband at work, explained to him what the X-ray showed, and asked him if he could come home to take care of Lily, while I went to have the procedure done. She had been with me for the entire doctors appointment. As I looked at her I started to cry.

I met Cameron at home. We talked briefly and he took me down to the hospital. He dropped me off and I made my way through the maze of hallways to the place where the thoracentesis was to be done. As I waited for the doctor my mind was racing. What on earth was going on? Why was my body doing this to me? I felt so many emotions, but mostly I was just scared.

The nurse came in, brought me into a cold brightly lit procedure room, gave me one of the paper gowns to put on and instructed me to sit on the table. A few minutes later the doctor came in, introduced himself and quickly explained what he was about to do. I sat on the side of the bed, leaned forward on a table and tried to just relax. Not so easy to do when a huge needle is being stuck into your back. He explained as the fluid was being drained that there would be some level of discomfort. I would also start coughing when the lung was able to expand again.

I was so nervous. All I could do was talk and try to make stupid conversation. He had to ask me to be quiet so he could concentrate. I heard him say “Hmmm...Hmmmmm and another Hm.” This to me did not sound promising. I asked him what was going on. A doctor saying “Hmmm” is the equivalent to a hairdresser saying “oops.” It does not bode well for the person getting the procedure done. He told me that the fluid was an odd color, not what he expected. It was the color of a reddish iced tea, not yellow or clear in color like the fluid usually is.

He continued to draw out 2 containers of fluid, which totaled to 1 liter. All of which was around my lung. No wonder why I couldn’t breathe. As my lung expanded it was painful, but it was noticeably easier to breathe. My day was not done however. He wanted to know what was causing the fluid buildup and sent me for a CT scan. It would be the first of many to come.

After the scan I was sent to sit in a cold dark waiting room on a hard couch. The room was supposed to be comforting. It mimicked a traditional living room with a couch, an upholstered chair, end table, and lamp that gave off little light. It was not a comforting room. It was little, lonely and cold. The doctor came to see me after about 30 minutes. He sat in the chair and told me that they found a mass. He didn’t know what it was, but there was definitely something there. I needed to come back the next day and have a CT-assisted needle biopsy done. I asked him right then if it was a tumor. He simply shrugged and said that more tests needed to be done.

I called my husband and walked back through the maze to the front of the hospital. As I stood near the entrance waiting for Cameron to come pick me up, my mind was going in a million different directions. Did I have cancer? Could it be a blood clot? What on earth was going on?

I just had a baby. I thought of Lily again and her serious little face and my tears began to flow. I tried to hold them back, but it was no use. The valet at the desk looked over at me, brought me a Kleenex and in his broken English asked if I was ok. I just smiled sadly at him and shrugged my shoulders. I honestly did not know the answer to his question.