A 21-year-old performing arts student has described the agony of discovering she has a rare terminal heart cancer – urging other young people not to miss the warning signs.
Destinee McEwen, of Detroit, Michigan, collapsed during a 2011 high school performance at the same school late singer Aaliyah attended, but doctors gave her pain medication and sent her home.
Convinced, she put her fears behind her and continued her rising singing career, winning a contest in 2013 to perform the national anthem for President Barack Obama.
But in 2014, when she was a freshman at Bethune–Cookman University, she started vomiting blood right before one of her college courses.
Within weeks she was diagnosed with cardiac sarcoma — a rare tumor that starts in the heart — which has also spread to her brain, and now she has just months to live.
Destinee McEwen was diagnosed with cardiac sarcoma, a rare form of cancer, in 2014
After the cancer spread to her brain, doctors told Destinee she had five to six months to live
‘I never thought at 21 I’d be planning for a funeral,’ she said.
Destinee, who was a vocal major at Detroit School of Arts, Aaliyah’s alma mater, told Daily Mail Online she’s experienced heart pains since she was 15. However, she knew something was wrong when she collapsed during a school performance when she was in the 10th grade.
‘I was singing, with pains that I’ve had before,’ Destinee said. ‘I suddenly began to get too hot. I was able to finish the songs, but [when I was] walking to change into the next dress … [I] collapsed.’
Luckily, her family – including her twin sister – was there and the school was just one mile away from the hospital, so she received help immediately.
The doctors believed Destinee pulled a muscle in her chest wall, causing her to have fatigue. The gave her pain medication and sent her home.
‘The test that were ran that night was an EKG of the chest, blood work, and that was that,’ she explained.
But Destinee, who also played basketball in high school, was still experiencing heart pain.
‘[My family] believed that I would be okay,’ Destinee explained. ‘It was hard convincing them that i wasn’t okay. It was almost like whatever the doctors said overrides how I felt, regardless of the pain it had caused.’
She was able to convince her parents to take her back to the hospital in 2012. That’s when doctors noticed her heart was ‘a little larger’ than normal.
After a few blood tests, X-rays, and another EKG, doctors diagnosed her with with an enlarged heart — which is usually a symptom of another condition. Yet, she was sent home.
Despite her ailment, Destinee managed to finish high school, snagging a scholarship to Bethune-Cookman University in Florida based on her vocal abilities.
When Destinee collapsed during a high school performance, doctors gave her pain medication and sent her home
WHAT IS CARDIAC SARCOMA?
Cardiac sarcoma is a rare type of tumor that occurs in the heart.
Symptoms of the disease include coughing up blood, heart rhythm problems, weight loss and fatigue.
Studies have shown that 90 percent of cardiac sarcoma patients die within nine to 12 months.
This cancer usually begin in the right upper chamber of the heart, resulting in the obstruction of the inflow or outflow of blood.
In 2014, Destinee, who double-majored in psychology and music, was on her way to class when she started vomiting blood.
‘As soon as i started vomiting blood i immediately thought of the worse,’ she explained. ‘I really thought that i was going to die.’
After several tests, including a biopsy and multiple blood work, Destinee was diagnosed with cardiac sarcoma.
Cardiac sarcoma is a rare form of cancer, which has a 0.07 percent occurrence, according to a 2010 study published in the Journal of Thoracic Oncology. It represents about 20 percent of all tumors that occur in the heart.
It turns out Destinee’s heart was larger than usual, because there was tumor inside of it.
The news devastated her.
‘I began failing because I had no motivation to go to class,’ Destinee told Daily Mail Online. ‘All of my friends were excelling while I was dying. I constantly had too much on my mind as far as home, my parents, where will I go, why did my life had to stop?’
Symptoms of cardiac sarcoma include coughing up blood, heart rhythm problems, weight loss, and swelling of the feet, legs, ankles.
Cardiac sarcomas usually begin in the right upper chamber of the heart, according to Stanford University Health Care. This usually results in the blockage of the inflow or outflow of blood.
In 2016, the cancer spread to another part of her body – her brain.
In December, doctors recently gave her five to six months to live. But the news didn’t crush her spirit.
‘It made me value everyday,’ she said. ‘I was chosen to be an inspiration, so my outlook on life is to simply inspire.’
Destinee is writing a book on her experience called Destiny Vs Destinee Stage 4: The Fight of my Life. In it she talks about some of her greatest achievements in life, from singing at Carnegie Hall to meeting Obama.
‘I wanted it to be something that i can leave behind so it can be passed along and when people see it they say, wow she fought a Hell of a good one,’ Destinee explained.