Echocardiogram

As I've been diagnosed with metastatic HER2-positive breast cancer, I'm on a three weekly cycle of Trastuzumab (Herceptin) and will be for as long as I'm getting benefits from the medicine and aren’t having troubling side effects.

With any treatment or drug, there are side effects.  Herceptin may cause serious heart problems, including some that don’t have symptoms, such as reduced heart function, and some that do have symptoms, such as congestive heart failure. Symptoms to watch for include swelling of the ankles or legs, shortness of breath, cough, or weight gain of more than 5 pounds in less than 24 hours. Contact your doctor immediately if you have any of these symptoms. (breast cancer.org)

To check for heart problems, I have an echocardiogram (echo) every three months.  I had one on 11 March and my next echo was scheduled for 15 July.  However during lockdown, I was told that this appointment was cancelled.  After a 12 week break from treatment, it started again on 20 May.  I queried the cancelled echo with my breast care nurse and it was rescheduled.  On Tuesday I went to Guy's Hospital for my echo.  It was such a different experience to go to the main hospital rather than the cancer centre.  At the cancer centre you feel totally safe, they speak to everyone before you enter the building to make sure you're feeling ok.  Someone dishes out hand sanitiser and a mask, then you have your temperature checked and finally you check in and then follow the marked route to the lifts.  Yesterday I walked straight in to the hospital, up the stairs and checked in at reception for my appointment.  I was shocked.  The only sign of social distancing was in the waiting area as seats were cordoned off to ensure social distancing.

I got my second shock when a young male student called me in for my echo.  I assumed he was going to take my height and weight which usually happens prior to my echos.  Nope, no height and weight check this time, and yes, he was going to be doing the scan!  

An echocardiogram uses sound waves to take detailed pictures of the heart as it pumps blood. For this  test, you are naked on the top half.  Sure, you put on a hospital gown but it's open at the front and frankly doesn't cover anything.  You then lie still, on your left side with your left hand holding a grip rail by your head for around twenty minutes while a device that gives off sound waves is briefly placed on your ribs, over your heart.  Thankfully it wasn't a hot day so I wasn't all hot and sticky but none the less, it was a bit embarrassing for both of us!  I started to panic when he called his supervisor over to check something but turns out, he'd just spotted my port-a-cath that goes into my heart.  Panic over!  I'll get the echo results at my oncology consultation on Monday morning.  

Echocardiogram at Guy's Hospital

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