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  • Writer's pictureJulia Maues

Cancer Treatment and Heart Health: The Tapestry of a Woman's Heart


As if metastatic cancer wasn't enough, a few months into my diagnosis I developed heart problems caused by the drugs I had to take for the cancer. Thanks to a wonderful team of collaborating oncologists and cardiologists, and to being healthy otherwise, my heart issues were eventually controlled with medication. Those were dark days, when I had a newborn at home and didn't know if I would die from the cancer or my heart failing.

Last year I was asked to share my story for this video on cardio-oncology by MedStar. It features one of my doctors and a leader in the cardio-oncology field, Dr. Ana Barac.

"A woman’s heart is integral to the tapestry she creates around relationships, responsibilities, and life experiences. Yet until recently, we knew less about heart disease in women than we did about heart disease in men. In this video, meet four amazing women whose life experiences—from breast cancer treatment to pregnancy—have affected their heart health. Learn how they have benefitted from the latest heart disease research available through MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute. Julia Maues was 23 weeks pregnant when she learned that she had breast cancer. Fortunately, the placenta protects babies from certain chemotherapy drugs, and she was able to begin lifesaving treatment while still pregnant. The drugs she had to take, however, are known to affect the heart, and she developed heart disease after giving birth to a healthy baby boy. Cardio-oncologist Ana Barac, MD, explains that there is a synergy between certain cancer treatments and heart disease, and she specializes in helping protect the hearts of patients diagnosed with cancer. Julia’s heart recovered, she continues taking medication for both cancer and heart disease, and she was able to see her little boy go to kindergarten this past fall—something she was not sure she would be able to do five years ago. Joanne Bailey was a busy woman in her early 60s, running her own real estate appraisal business, when she began experiencing shortness of breath. It never occurred to her that it might be caused by a problem with her heart, but her doctor heard it immediately—a heart murmur. Within a short time, she was referred to MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, where Lowell Satler, MD, medical director of the Cardiac Catheterization Lab, told her she would need surgery to replace her heart valve. Fortunately, she was a candidate for a study of TAVR procedure—a Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement—which is a minimally invasive approach to replacing the valve that allows patients to avoid open-heart surgery. Joanne’s procedure was performed on a Monday, she was home that Wednesday, and she was back to work the following week. She recalls feeling better almost immediately after the TAVR. “Research into this technique saved my life.” She says. Mary Lou Berres was just turning 70 and was still serving as the head of the math department at a local school when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had also been diagnosed years earlier with Left Bundle Branch Block, an electrical disturbance that affected the way her heart beat. Her oncologist immediately recognized that the drug she would need for her breast cancer—Herceptin—could be a problem for her heart. He referred her to Dr. Barac immediately, and within 24 hours, Mary Lou was enrolled in a study that included regular heart monitoring as she underwent cancer treatment. Nearly one year later, when she did begin to experience shortness of breath, Dr. Barac determined that she needed a pacemaker to keep her heart functioning properly. Today, Mary Lou is stronger, enjoys visiting with her young grandson and caring for her new dog, and her EKGs are normal, thanks to the research and expertise available to her through MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute. Artist Anna Rose Soevik was inspired to tell the stories of these amazing women through her art. Watch as Anna captures the essence of each woman’s experience in her murals and expands upon them to create a “tapestry of a woman’s heart.” And learn more about Anna’s own personal health story at the end of the video."

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