Pulmonary Embolism, Cancer and Me
Last updated: September 2023
Last month, I had my first hospitalization since my stage 4 metastatic breast cancer diagnosis in October 2020. I had been dealing with an explosive stomach for 36 hours, and I woke up in the middle of the night with a 101.2-degree fever. Upon being admitted to the emergency room, the ER doctor ordered a CT scan of my chest and abdomen to understand what was happening in my GI (gastrointestinal) system.
A shocking diagnosis of pulmonary embolism
Not surprisingly, the doctor diagnosed me with colitis, which is swelling of the colon.1
However, the doctor informed me they would admit me to the hospital due to blood clots in both lungs. These specific blood clots, called pulmonary embolism (PE), can block blood supply to the lungs.2
My scan showed "partially imaged segmental and subsegmental filling defects within the bilateral lower lobe pulmonary arteries." The scan also showed trace right pleural fluid with adjacent atelectasis (partial or complete lung collapse).
Being treated for blood clots
I spent 3 days and 2 nights in the hospital. They hooked me up to a Heparin drip and periodically came in to poke and prod my left arm (the only arm medical professionals can use for blood draws). My veins did not cooperate, likely due to the dehydration from the colitis. At one point, the nurse had no choice but to go through my wrist to draw blood from me. When I left the hospital, bruises, from my bicep to my knuckles, covered my arm.
Have you experienced a pulmonary embolism?
Metastatic breast cancer and pulmonary embolism
After I came home from the hospital, I learned from many of my stage 4 cancer friends that they also experienced blood clots and pulmonary emboli. I had no clue that some types of cancer, including breast cancer, are more likely to cause these clots.2 This information seems like something I should have known earlier.
While there isn't one specific cause of pulmonary embolism, certain factors such as cancer, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, hospitalization, obesity, infections, and medications can all contribute to developing PE.2
Symptoms of pulmonary embolism
I had no idea I had been dealing with pulmonary emboli and a partial lung collapse. When I walked up and down stairs, I experienced shortness of breath. However, I thought it was due to my 40-pound weight gain since my diagnosis.
Early warning signs and more
The early warning signs of pulmonary embolism are difficulty breathing and localized chest pain that worsens when coughing or taking a deep breath. The common symptoms of a pulmonary embolism may include:2,3
- Coughing (including producing blood mucous)
- Heart palpitations
- Leg pain or swelling
- Sharp and sudden chest pain
- Shortness of breath that worsens with exertion
Relieved to have been treated
The doctors sent me home with a starter pack of Eliquis and a stunned, shaking feeling about my health and longevity. Regardless, I am relieved that my stomach issues resulted in finding the pulmonary emboli. It's about time my lifelong stomach issues paid off for me.
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