Fighting cancer, making progress, and experiencing recurrence can feel like not catching a break. It's important to try persevering through these setbacks and find ways to make the journey smoother.
2011 was a crazy year and the beginning to an interesting journey. I was on a business trip when I got up one morning and drove myself to the emergency room- I’d had a lot of blood in my urine and a migraine. I’d convinced myself for a couple of months that I was going through perimenopause or passing a kidney stone- anything to overlook and not deal with the fact that something was wrong. The trip to the emergency room was to confirm that everything was fine and I’d be boarding a plane to go home afterward. Instead I was admitted as I was hemorrhaging and needed surgery to stop the bleeding. After surgery, I was informed that I had stage 4 bladder cancer. Not the news I was expecting at all! Self-diagnosis had completely backfired!
When I returned home, an additional surgery was scheduled to determine the extent of the cancer. Good news- the cancer hadn’t taken hold of the bladder lining. BCG - chemotherapy was the treatment plan. BCG is a germ related to the one that causes tuberculosis (TB), but it doesn't usually cause serious disease. So odd to hear that tuberculosis was my treatment!
The chemotherapy was weekly (for 9 weeks and 2 rounds of 6 weeks) and something I was able to take care of on my own. Once the BCG was placed in my bladder with a catheter, I went home and kept it there for a couple of hours. It was a bit uncomfortable but that didn’t bother me. I knew I wasn’t going to lose my hair and once the BCG was out, I felt fine. I worked during treatment
from home, continued traveling for my employer, and didn’t really miss a beat.
I had a number of rounds with scopes (cystoscopy) to validate that my bladder was responding to the chemo. Follow ups showed a healthy bladder until a certain point. Time for more chemotherapy. Unfortunately, the following cystoscopy showed my bladder wasn’t responding to the chemo.
The news was presented, my bladder needed to go. The surgeons suggested I follow the path of an internal reservoir, or Indiana Pouch, in place of the current bladder. (I preferred this option over an external pouch as I didn’t want to carry the "bag of gold"). My large intestine was to be rebuilt to support this function while the small intestine the delivery tube for release of fluids. The surgery included removal of my bladder, lymph-nodes and a hysterectomy. A robot was used for the surgery which lessened my exposure, blood loss and time in the hospital.
The week prior to surgery was filled with tests and preparation. I’m not going to lie; this was far from fun! The colon cleanses (2 in 1 week) were the worst! I joked and laughed through them
with a friend which added some levity. There’s really nothing you can do to prepare for these – just realize that they are needed to determine the path that can be taken. With my tests came good news! Other than the cancer, my body looked good and the surgery could move forward as planned.
Just because you’ve reached the path that needs to be taken doesn’t mean it’s smooth sailing. When the time came, my sister took me to the hospital for surgery. As we were prepping for it, I turned to her and told her I didn’t want to do it. She offered to take me to the airport for the trip of a lifetime instead.
Thankfully I had a cute anesthesiologist ready to make cocktails to my desire. Surgery went well and I went directly to a room with no ICU needed. Nausea was my worst enemy and humor my best friend. The nurses were terrific in keeping me motivated when I was at my worst. The anesthesia did a number on me but there sure were some fun stories! Hearing from family and friends helped keep me focused on doing what I needed.
A week after surgery, still in the hospital, pathology report came back – cancer extensively in the bladder but the margins and nodes were clean. NO CHEMO OR RADIATION! I wanted to jump up and down. After 9 nights, I was homeward bound and so excited. Unfortunately, disappointment followed quickly. One of my incisions was infected and I had to be readmitted for 3 more days.
I realized during those days that I could be facing more disappointment at any point moving forward. I have learned to “roll with the punches”, focus on the positive,
treat myself well and live my days to the fullest.
2 weeks post-surgery and I was doing well! Infection was healing nicely, drains were beginning to be removed and I was finding some freedom. Doing my own Christmas shopping during the week with chauffeurs was ideal. Very nice to get out and look normal!
Throughout this journey of post-surgery, I’ve relied heavily on acupuncture. It’s helped me both physically and mentally. My recovery and the support received has been invaluable. Doctors and nurses have shared many comments that kept me in balance and relieved any discomfort.
Being diagnosed with bladder cancer was a shock. Getting my bladder removed even more so. At first, it felt like a death sentence, but I can tell you now, it was not the end. Over the course of 5 years, undergoing all of these surgeries and procedures, and I’m cancer free! Yes, I can’t ignore
that the changes to my body are huge. But I am more overwhelmed with the love and support I've received! No matter what hand I’ve been dealt, friends, family, positive outlook and a good dose of humor have been my needed medicine!