INDIANAPOLIS — Before hearing “You have cancer,” 41-year-old Erika Jay said she was healthy.
“It was surprising, unexpected for sure," she said. "I was always super healthy. Never had anything major going on."
At the time, Jay was working full-time and taking care of family in Colorado. She returned from a trip in 2016 and noticed something was off.
“Out of the blue, I had lower back pain and some pain in my abdomen. I thought, 'There must be something going on, I just don’t feel right,'” Jay said.
Doctors originally thought she had a kidney infection. After providing treatment, the symptoms didn’t improve. They then started to do tests and found a large mass in her abdomen. At first, they thought it was a benign tumor on her ovaries. After the surgeon went in to remove it, they realized that wasn’t the case.
After almost five months of scans and treatments, doctors finally found the mass on her small intestine, which came back malignant. Doctors diagnosed her with a rare, stage 3 form of sarcoma.
After removing it, Jay was put on an oral chemotherapy treatment, but in August 2019, the cancer came back. This time, it was stage 4 and spread to other areas of her body.
“The margins weren’t clear. They weren’t able to get everything at that point, so it was immediately, ‘Hey let’s start some other kind of treatment,' which we were grateful for. It’s been amazing to know there are options,” Jay said.
Jay and her family moved to Carmel a few months later to work with the oncology team at IU Health. She was put on a different daily chemotherapy pill called Sutent. The side effects of that pill were causing her a lot of pain.
“I had some increased blood pressure, hypertension that I have not had. I always ran low. I was an athlete when I was young and as a petite person, it historically has been low. The Sutent had me running about double,” she said.
That’s when her oncologist referred her to Dr. Suparna Clasen, medical director of IU Health’s cardio-oncology program.
Clasen works closely with the oncology department to help patients as they prepare for chemo, during their treatment and even years after when they’re in remission. She said it’s a newer field of medicine.
“I also see a large number of cancer survivors who have had cancer treatment decades prior or even a few years prior who have late or unintended consequences of their anti-cancer therapy,” Clasen said. “I see a lot of childhood cancer survivors too, to try and help them transition to adulthood and make sure we are screening for any adverse cardiovascular outcomes.”
People diagnosed with cancer are at a higher risk of developing heart problems.
According to a study from the Texas Heart Institute, cardiovascular disease is the second leading cause of late morbidly and death among cancer survivors.
“The goal really is to prevent any interruptions in their oncologic therapy and then when they are in survivorship, to ensure a really nice quality of life,” said Clasen.
After meeting with Jay, Clasen determined her oral treatment was causing hypertension and a potential aneurysm in her heart, which is now being closely monitored.
“She is doing great. She is the model patient. She takes her meds. She is really diligent about avoiding salt and exercising and staying on top of her health," Clasen said.
Jay continues to battle her cancer while also monitoring the side effects. She said faith and family have gotten her through this journey.
“Faith has been such a big part of the journey for our family. It’s been everything,” she said. “I have a whole lot to be grateful for. My scans have been pretty clear and in recent months, very clear, where there hasn’t been anything of question or concern.”
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