March 15, 2021

Her best life

Calgarian optimistic despite complicated health issues affecting her heart

Janice Roberts has been fighting cancer for seven years.

Her inspiring story begins in 2014, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer through a routine mammogram. Roberts received chemotherapy and radiation and made the decision to have both breasts removed and went into remission.

But her battle with the disease left her scarred: one of the cancer medications damaged her heart, a condition called cardiotoxicity. She was left with a damaged valve, meaning the blood was unable to pump as efficiently. Roberts still suffers from dizzy spells and shortness of breath.

But Roberts says she was treated by amazing physicians and health care providers at Calgary’s Cardio-oncology Clinic. Her heart was monitored regularly and she was taken off her anti-cancer drugs and began taking heart medications.

In February 2019 the cancer returned. This time it impacted Roberts’ liver, lungs, brain and knee. She faced this challenge with an inspiring sense of optimism, refusing to give up.

Although Roberts is still fighting cancer, she says her condition has improved. Her heart is also doing better, although she still has some symptoms.

Debra Bosley, RN, is a nurse clinician at Alberta’s only cardio-oncology clinic. Located at South Health Campus, the clinic has treated about 2,600 people—referred by cardiologists, oncologists and hematologists—from all over the province since opening in December 2013.

Bosley says although the incidence of cardiotoxicity isn’t high when compared with the number of people who receive cancer treatment, patients should be aware of the possibility.

According to Bosley, cancer treatments can cause heart failure, arrhythmias like atrial fibrillation and other cardiac dysfunctions. The heart issues can present in the first three to six months to a year or up to 15 years later.

“The signs of heart dysfunction may be: fatigue, swelling of the lower legs and ankles, chest pain and shortness of breath,” says Bosley, adding people should let their specialist know if they have any of these symptoms.

Bosley says the clinic treats people with cardiotoxicity, using standard heart failure therapy.

Her interactions with the patients in the clinic, including Roberts, have left Bosley inspired.

“Our patients are amazing. They are optimistic and happy and just want to ‘get this done,’” she says.

Despite what she has been through, Roberts is indeed optimistic.

She inspires others with her love of life and her willingness to share her message about the potential side effects of cancer treatment on the heart and the importance of seeking treatment if something feels not quite right.

“Listen to the doctors, and don’t be afraid,” says Roberts. “There are amazing cancer and heart doctors in Calgary, so try to stay strong.”

Learn more about the connection between cancer and your heart here.