The "Other Bladders"
Last updated: May 2023
It's bladder cancer awareness month, and as you know: Our Bladders Matter! But what if it's not your bladder? Now, this isn't as strange as it might sound. What I mean is, what if you're not the patient - the one living with cancer?
My experience, I hope, will provide perspective from the "other bladders." Those not physically experiencing the disease but who are learning to cope with it being a part of their world.
Diagnosis and prognosis
I've shared my experience of living far away when receiving my mother's stage 3 bladder cancer diagnosis. World-shattering doesn't do it justice. I truly feel that no words can really embody what those first few days and weeks were like. But over time, and with lots and lots of phone and sometimes video calls, I started to get more informed.
Treatment plans and their effects
My mother had so many surgeries and treatment plans from different specialists, different hospitals, and different departments in hospitals I have no idea how she kept track of it all. But through this difficult time, she managed to face everything head-on with a strength I am still to this day awed by.
When surgeries are successful, and treatment plans are working, it's easy to become overly positive. Blinded almost to the reality of what the patient is going through. Caught up in the moment. Yet, celebrating the wins during a cancer journey is a good thing! But so is being there for the bad days. The days when everything is just too much. Being there to provide an escape, a listening ear, someone to scream at, or someone to cry with. Just being there in whatever way possible, trying to understand.
Becoming informed: The importance of open and honest communication
Understanding how bladder cancer doesn't just change a person's health and physical body provided empowerment and understanding. Bladder cancer has so many more effects than just the physical changes post-surgery.
It has effects on relationships; what a person can and can't do; their confidence and self-esteem; and so much more. These were all things I learned. This was the information I needed. With this knowledge, I could try to understand, empathize and empower my Mom through this difficult time.
How can I really understand?
I'm not a middle-aged woman who has just had her bladder removed, along with a few other things. I have no idea what it's like. But through open, honest communication, I learned about the reality. I learned about the side effects. The long-term issues.
To be completely honest, I had never spoken about my parent's private parts so much as I did during those first few years. But bladder cancer opened this subject up. Normalized it and removed the taboo. And this new understanding strengthened our relationship and brought us, in a somewhat strange way, closer.
Talking away taboo
I feel that getting over the taboo that sometimes exists when talking about certain types of cancers and their effects is one of the ways to empower someone going through a cancer journey. The effects, both physical and mental, are tough and sometimes long-lasting. So why make a situation any more difficult than it needs to be? Why be prudish, shy, or possibly even embarrassed when discussing the effects of treatments and surgeries? This was my eureka moment as a family member supporting someone who is living with and undergoing treatment for bladder cancer.
It was so easy during those scary procedures and emotional appointments to lose sight of the fact that my mother has to digest all of this and also live with it. For me, I just had to comprehend what was happening or about to happen. The real effects on my body were non-existent. The long-term effects were something I never even considered.
Has cancer impacted your mood during the holidays?