Many cancer patients face a grim irony: they survive cancer with powerful doses of chemotherapy and radiation, but the treatment creates heart problems they ultimately don’t survive.
So when Kimberly Davis was diagnosed with breast cancer last April, her oncologist at Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia sent her for testing to make sure her heart could withstand the chemotherapy. “The type of cancer she had required a medication that could affect the pumping function of the heart,” says Minal Dhamankar, MD.
Then came more bad news: Davis already had severe congestive heart failure.
“This came as a bolt from the blue, as not only was she suffering from two life-threatening conditions, but her heart disease was greatly limiting the treatment of her cancer,” says Dr. Dhamankar.
Dr. Dhamankar immediately referred Davis to a cardiologist in Einstein’s cardio-oncology program, which is designed to treat cancer patients who have heart disease or are at risk of developing it during chemotherapy. The patients are treated by a collaborative team that includes an oncologist, cardiologist, radiation oncologist and others.
“Cancer patients are seen promptly by cardiology, and necessary testing is prioritized, avoiding any delays in starting their treatments,” Dr. Dhamankar says. “Even during the times of lockdown during the peak of the pandemic, our patients had the necessary testing done in a timely manner, ensuring uninterrupted care.”
Cardiologist Syed Hasni, MD, conferred with Dr. Dhamankar and others to coordinate Davis’ heart treatment with chemotherapy. “Imagine being diagnosed with two life-threatening diseases at the same time, and imagine that the treatment of one can aggravate the other,” he says.
Bearing Other Burdens
It wasn’t as if things were going all that well for Davis to begin with. Her mother was dying. She was working all night so she could take care of her four grandsons while their parents worked. COVID had made everything about life fraught with danger.
But Davis handled it all with the grace that comes with an unwavering faith and a grateful soul.
“When the doc told me about the cancer, I wasn’t upset,” says Davis, a devout Christian who says she’s been involved in church ministries for 30 years. “I just began to talk to myself about God not putting any more on me than I could handle.”
After all, didn’t God just answer another of her heartfelt prayers, to reconcile with her mother? The two had been estranged for years. She was otherwise gratified about her life – married to her high school sweetheart, whom she met in 10th grade at Olney High School.
“He’s been my rock,” Davis says of her husband, who served in the Navy and has worked for decades for the US Postal Service.
A Timely Reunion
Davis wanted to repair the rift with her mother. “I wanted a relationship with her,” she says. “We all have our issues, whatever they may be. I prayed for years that the Lord would fix that for me.”
And it worked. Two and a half years ago, they reconciled. When her mother became critically ill, Davis took care of her: cooking for her every day, taking her to doctors’ appointments, being her emotional support.
Even after Davis was diagnosed with cancer and heart failure, she brought her mother to her home for hospice care. Her mother died days later.
Meanwhile, under the care of Einstein’s cardio-oncology team, Davis says she is “doing well.” She’s completed chemotherapy, radiation and surgery and will undergo targeted therapy until April to prevent her cancer from coming back.
Her heart was closely monitored and protected with medication during cancer treatment, so her heart disease is stable. “I’m just taking it easy, focusing on my overall well-being – mind, body and spirit,” she says.
Dr. Hasni is gratified that the treatment is working and marvels at Davis’ graceful acceptance of her dual diagnoses. “She had the patience of an angel,” he says. “She never once showed signs of stressing out or panic, and she did everything she was told to do medically.”
Kimberly Davis explains her serenity by quoting Corinthians: “My faith doesn’t stand in the wisdom of men but with the power of God.” In this case, both have helped pull her through.
Learn more about Einstein’s Cardio-Oncology Program.