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Diagnosed with Bladder Cancer During the Pandemic

We're highlighting people in the bladder cancer community. I talked to Nick from the UK about what it was like to receive his diagnosis and start treatments during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nick's bladder cancer diagnosis

I was diagnosed with bladder cancer, a high-grade, non-muscle-invasive G2 pT1a, 6cm tumour arising from the right lateral wall and trigone on March 2nd, 2020, and my tumour was removed on March 18th, 2020. The UK went into its first lockdown days later on March 23rd.

Diagnosis and treatment through the pandemic have been hard - mentally, emotionally, and practically. There were been two occasions when I have had to go to private hospitals for procedures due to the National Health Service (NHS) concentrating on COVID-19 (either due to the volume of patients infected or the high possibility of me being infected).

The mental strain

Mentally, it’s been a strain. After all, being a father to two young children has made it harder as many, many questions and scenarios are played out in my mind.

Thankfully, I have a strong, supportive wife and family and also a great team of Macmillan nurses and doctors at the NHS. They have always told me straight - the diagnosis, my path ahead, the dangers - but above all, they have always had my back.

High quality care

If I'm honest, I haven’t noticed any difference in changes of care or treatment in the middle of the pandemic, and there has never been a cancellation (so far!) of treatment or procedures. Sure, there have been bottleneck situations where dates have had to be changed, but the disruption was minimal, if at all.

BCG side effects are similar to COVID symptoms

My doctor chose the route of BCG as chemotherapy or radiotherapy would have proved too risky given the impact it would have on my immune system concerning COVID-19. So, BCG it was, and I had my introductory course in June 2020.

That first session of BCG involved 6 treatments, and as the treatments increased the side effects began to become quite marked. After all, the side effects of BCG mirror the symptoms of COVID-19 in some ways and that can be a concern. As time went on, that can be a little scary.

Other side effects

I also noticed that hair was falling out at a greater rate than was natural. Although it was nowhere near as severe as with chemo or radiotherapy, it was still a surprise. I’ve noticed as times gone on (I’m now on my second maintenance, 15 treatments all together) that those side effects have got worse.

Thankful for my medical team

Finally, I would like to thank those professionals who, under immense pressure because of COVID-19, have always had the best outcome for me. They carefully chose a path forward for me (TURBT, biopsies, BCG) that was the right path given the current circumstances, and they have never faltered in the level of care for me. I am aware of others in the bladder cancer community who are not so lucky and having been diagnosed after me have had a harder, more brutal outcome.

Optimism and faith get me through

I come from an era where cancer was possibly the worst news one could get, and given that there have been ‘why me?’ moments. This hasn’t been easy. Add COVID into the mix, and it has made it a difficult journey to be on. However, I am an eternal optimist who takes each step at a time and though I may not be out of the tunnel (in fact, that may never happen) I have faith in those around me and myself.

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