• Susan Strong

Decades After Diagnosis:The Unrecognized Trauma of Surviving

When I met Darryl in 2012, I was in the best shape of my life. Our first year together was joyful and active: we enjoyed mountain hikes and long talks, with the crunch of graveled trail underfoot and an expanse of azure sky overhead; summer concerts under a canopy of stars at the Red Rocks amphitheater; and shared laughter and conversation over wine and gourmet dinners with friends. At 46, I felt certain that the second half of my life held a joy that my younger self had only hoped for.

One short year later, at a routine appointment, my primary care physician said, “Your murmur is changing. Let’s send you to a cardiologist.” The life-altering chain of events that followed left me blind-sided.

A few weeks later, an echocardiogram revealed severe aortic stenosis. The cardiologist said I would need valve replacement within the next 6 months. He explained that the stenosis was a result of high-dose (36Gy) mantle radiation I had received in 1983—when at 17 years old, I had been diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma.

What?? My experience of cancer as a teenager had become a distant memory.… The staging laparotomy and splenectomy, lymphangiogram, bone marrow biopsy, MOPP chemotherapy, radiation…the impact of that brutal year seemed distant and unreal, like a nightmare that was difficult to recall after the morning light and a cup of coffee.

Stunned, I sat on a metal bench in front of the hospital, waiting for the valet to retrieve my car. I called Darryl to tell him the shocking news about my heart valve. I braced myself and said stoically, “Now’s your opportunity to move on, because things are about to get real.”

Click on the link below to read the entire piece. Thanks for reading!

cardiooncology.onlinejacc.org/content/2/1/149

© 2020 by Susan Strong