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Cancer, heart problems and kidney issues: Balancing my mom's treatments

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Deborah and Doris ThomasThe doctors at MD Anderson not only diagnosed my mother's stage III breast cancer. They also diagnosed a heart condition that may have become quite serious had it not been found early.

How swelling legs and feet helped identify a heart problem

In a previous Cancerwise post, I mentioned that my mom developed edema, a condition that caused her lower legs and feet to swell after her first Taxol chemotherapy treatment. This did subside, but we soon learned that once a side effect goes away, you shouldn't believe it's gone for good. The swelling came back a couple of weeks later with vengeance.

My mom's oncologist, Sharon Giordano, M.D., watched the edema closely. Taxol can cause swelling but Dr. Giordano said it's rarely this extreme. She and her pharmacist thought this might have to do with Mom's blood pressure medicine and referred Mom back to Edward Yeh, M.D., chair of Cardiology at MD Anderson.

The Department of Cardiology is uniquely equipped to handle patients with every kind of cardiovascular issue. Some patients without cancer even come here to get their heart problems treated.

Addressing heart valve leakage and kidney complications
Mom and I were impressed with Dr. Yeh and his nurse practitioner, Sheryl Murphy. They explained some of Mom's heart valves have a minor leakage called regurgitation. The excess fluid builds up and causes swelling in the extremities.

Since so much fluid is pumped into the body during chemotherapy, they prescribed a diuretic to help my mother expel this seepage. To us, this sounded like a fine solution. That is, until we went back to Dr. Giordano, who found that Mom's kidneys needed more fluid.

Basically, Mom needed more fluid for her kidneys and fluid drained for her heart, so a strong diuretic like the one Dr. Yeh prescribed is out of the question.

Why a multidisciplinary approach to cancer is best
What's great about MD Anderson is all their doctors can pull up a patient's chart anywhere in the hospital. Dr. Giordano's team talked with Dr. Yeh's team and found a happy medium for my mom's heart and kidneys before we even finished our appointment with Dr. Giordano. They will both continue to watch closely and discuss as a team should anything need to change.

As my mom and I are learning, it's important to go to a place like MD Anderson that can treat all your ailments when you're getting treated for cancer. Even if those health conditions don't seem related to cancer at all, I'm finding it all ties together. And, even if you don't realize you have those ailments before you have cancer, it's best to go to a place that can diagnose them and take care of them.

After all, as my mom and I have discovered, you never know what new health issues you might encounter during cancer treatment.

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