All This and Cancer, Too

It was my birthday a few days ago and normally I would have celebrated with a post noting it was the fifth birthday I wasn’t supposed to see, take that, Cancer, and Mortality, those pains you feel are me, flamenco-dancing on your face in stiletto heels (it’s my defiance fantasy, I can flamenco-dance in stilettos). But I was too busy worrying about my blood pressure. And, as everyone knows, worrying about your blood pressure isn’t good for your blood pressure.

A few weeks ago, I was supposed to have some extensive dental work done under sedation (yeah, that’s right, I flamenco-dance on Cancer but the dentist makes me scream like a girl). I’d had sedation before and I wasn’t anticipating any problems. Then they took my blood pressure.

I won’t give you the exact numbers but suffice it to say that they were equivalent to, ‘Stand back, boys, she could blow at any moment!’ The procedure had to be postponed while I had a talk with my doctor.

Worrying and high blood pressure aren’t like me. Worry and anxiety require a lot of effort. I’m too lazy to work that hard unless it solves a problem, and worrying only tires you out without letting you accomplish anything. It’s like running a thousand miles in place. My blood pressure was always low, even back when I was still smoking. Even back when my mother was alive, and if anyone could have caused every blood vessel in my head to explode, it would have been her. (She didn’t develop hypertension until sometime in her mid-80s.)

Of course, I was a bit younger then. Also, I didn’t have cancer, and I wasn’t taking progesterone.

Among the more charming side effects of progesterone are mood swings, anxiety, and high blood pressure. I was doing okay for a while but I’ve been taking progesterone for five years. It’s been doing its primary job very well—i.e., keeping my cancer at a low level, even reducing it little by little. This has kept me alive, which means I’ve been getting older, and to my shock and dismay, having cancer didn’t make me exempt from the more ordinary problems that come with getting older, like, say, high blood pressure. All this and cancer, too.

So I’ve spent the past week taking my blood pressure three times a day and keeping a log of the readings for my doctor. She prescribed some medication and I start taking it this morning. I have to continue logging my blood pressure for the next two weeks, and then we’ll talk again.

Cancer never made me as tense as this has—and high blood pressure is far more common, at least among the people I know. In fact, I was shocked to find out how many of my friends have been coping with hypertension, and for quite a long time, longer than I’ve been coping with cancer.

They call hypertension the silent killer, and I had no idea how apt a name this is until that day at the dentist’s office. The oral surgeon asked me if I’d ever had this or that symptom and I could honestly say no, I hadn’t. I never felt a thing. I felt normal. I still do.

Maybe you feel normal, too. Get your blood-pressure checked anyway, even if you’re under forty. Yeah, I always thought of it as an over-forty thing but it isn’t. Anyone can develop hypertension, for any reason.

I never had high blood pressure until after I started taking progesterone. And I blush to admit this: I honestly believed that since I wasn’t hypertensive to begin with, my blood pressure wouldn’t be affected by medication.

Live and learn.

The key word in the previous sentence is ’live,’ which becomes iffy when your blood pressure is so high, your dentist is afraid you’ll stroke out in the chair before he even hits you with the first syringe. My blood pressure was—no, is a more serious problem than my cancer at the moment. Dammit, it’s just not fair.

(That was a joke, if you couldn’t tell.)

So I’ll start the new medication today, and make the recommended lifestyle changes—-better diet, more exercise—and we’ll see what happens. I’d feel pretty stupid if, after staring down cancer and dodging Covid, I keeled over because my head exploded.

Although I’ll still be wondering from time to time what the hell Mortality is going to throw at me next.

(Did I mention you should get your blood pressure checked? Do that, okay?)

22 thoughts on “All This and Cancer, Too

  1. What a pain in the arse for you! I’m so sorry you have to deal with that. I’m sure you’re a conscientious patient and you’ll amaze the doctors with your progress. It’s a wonder the whole fricking world doesn’t have high blood pressure these days. The 50s and 60s when I grew up are looking more and more like anomalies in Time’s chaotic march, to me. It’s really true, we didn’t know how good we had it. It’s hard to get myself to a place of peace and relaxation just to go to sleep any more. But you are a formidable foe to all those maladies that would assail you. Hang in there! You’re not alone!

  2. Mine was up this last check-up, too. Not to hypertension levels, but I get your surprise. Of course, I have asthma and we have wildfires, so tah-dah! But I’m considering doing checks when the air goes back to normal to see if the blood pressure dropped, too. Hugs. Hugs. Hugs.

  3. Did a stint as a public health nurse, traveling the back roads of Vermont in a 4 wheel drive.
    Sometimes, Family Doctors would refer oldsters to us for BP checks at home for possible White Coat Hypertension. Anticipatory anxiety, coupled with an olfactory whiff of medical office antiseptics can blow your BP higher than the Empire State Building.
    Frequently, sitting around the kitchen table at home was familiar and cosy enough to bring the blood pressure down and keep people’s tea kettles from gathering steam and exploding.
    I wish you the best, Pat.

    • Thank you, Fay. I’m very familiar with white-coat syndrome. In the past, I’ve had to persuade doctors and nurses to take my blood pressure three and even four times to get a true reading. Sometimes I have to take more than one reading even when I’m home and calm. But when both the systolic and diastolic are in three figures, and won’t come down more than ten points, there’s more than just nerves at work.

      The good news is, after the first dose of my new ACE inhibitor, my blood pressure is already heading back down toward normal. I respond well to medication. 😉

    • That’s interesting. I’m 71; until around 5 years ago I always had BP on the low side (which I was told is great!) But I started having WCS at checkups – I figured out how to thwart it by concentrating on thoughts of my son, who is the absolute joy and light of my life, as they set up the sphygmomanometer, and it works every time. Just an anecdote, I’ll shut the door on my way out.

  4. So glad the ACE inhibitor is working for you! I’ve had HBP for years; taking medication keeps the higher numbers at bay. So much love to you. ❤

  5. Tere Pat,
    I have inherited hypertension which didn’t manifest until I was 55 (am now 78) It’s a pain but very very manageable, to the extent that you will need to keep an eye out that our great friends ACE inhibitors aren’t pulling your numbers down too low. You CAN handle this, using the the same tools you are using against Mr. C. ie, Following your doctors advice and laughter. It’s a THING. It can be managed and we’re all pulling for and with you,

    • Martha, honey, you’re one of a few friends I know with inherited hypertension. And you are so right.

      While this was really startling for me, it is, as you said, easily managed because treatment is available. And if one kind doesn’t work, there are plenty of effective alternatives, along with things I can do to improve my own health.

      And of course, there’s all the moral support I get from wonderful people like you.

      Hypertension is just another technical difficulty, like cancer; it’s a pain in the ass, inconvenient, and sometimes more difficult to deal with than other times. But isn’t everything?

    • As you ay have noticed, I thought long and hard about approving this response and making it public. I do not endorse “cures” for cancer or any other medical condition and I have openly and vigorously condemned those awful “The Cancer Cure Your Doctor Doesn’t Want You To Know About” items.

      However, after investigating the website, I can see that it’s legitimate.

      I strongly encourage anyone considering following the diet outlined in the link to talk to their doctor or a nurse or nurse-practitioner directly involved in their treatment about whether this is a good idea. Everyone’s different, which means everyone’s cancer is different, even when it’s nominally the same kind.

      When you are completely healthy, with no chronic illness, you can experiment with different kinds of diets to your heart’s content. I certainly did, back in the day. But when you have cancer—or diabetes, or multiple sclerosis, or any other serious medical condition—you need to talk to your doctor/treatment team. In fact, I recommend getting general advice on nutrition anyway, just as a matter of course.

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