How Bladder Cancer Helped Me Get My Life Together
Like other survivors I've spoken with, my life seems permanently divided into two parts – Before Cancer and After Cancer.
Before Cancer, it's safe to say I was a hot mess. I exercised exactly never. I ate tons of trash – a box of fruit-rollups for a snack, pizza for breakfast, a sleeve of Oreos for dessert. I drank water when I remembered, which wasn't often. I stayed up late and slept weird hours. I poured all my attention into my family, and left little for myself.
I had been ignoring my body entirely
When I got the diagnosis, I was stunned – bladder cancer rarely strikes in people under the age of 55, even less so for women, and it's rarer still among people who don't smoke or aren't exposed to toxic chemicals. But in hindsight, it's not totally surprising. Obesity, poor diet, and a lack of exercise can also increase one's risk for cancer, no matter the type, and not drinking enough water has been shown to increase the chance of bladder cancer specifically.1,2 I'll never know for sure what caused my cancer – probably a combination of all those things – but ultimately, I took it as a wake-up call. I was ignoring my body totally – and it had to start acting up before I paid it any attention.
Eating foods linked to a decreased risk in cancer
The night I got my cancer diagnosis, I decided that I wouldn't put anything in my body that didn't directly fight cancer. If it wasn't explicitly linked to a decreased risk in cancer, I wasn't going to eat it.3 Processed foods, added sugars, and even bread were eliminated from my diet totally. I loaded my plate with dark green veggies, berries, and lots of fish.
Drinking more water
I started drinking water and treated it like a full-time job. You wouldn't think drinking water would be a chore, but it's surprisingly hard to remember to keep hydrating, at least at first. Eventually, I learned that your body adjusts to the amount of water it's supposed to get, and soon I started craving water if I wasn't getting enough. I was peeing a lot more – but I was also flushing out toxins more than I had been Before Cancer.
Getting enough exercise
Getting enough exercise was the biggest challenge, particularly after surgery. After the doctors removed my catheter and I was cleared to exercise again, I joined a gym and actually started using it. I walked on the treadmill. I walked through my neighborhood. I took a yoga class. I swam. In just a few short months, I managed to lose 25 pounds.
My lifestyle is radically different
After my first, second, and then third scan post-surgery (all of them clear), I relaxed to the point where I wasn't obsessing endlessly over my health. I let myself have ice cream every so often. I didn't freak out if I had a “cheat day” or opted to take a leisurely walk around the neighborhood rather than swimming laps at the gym. I gained most of the weight back (carbs are my bane), and I'm struggling right now to lose it again. But despite this, my lifestyle is still radically different. I pay attention to what I'm putting in my body and take care to listen to what it's telling me, rather than just shoveling it full of trash. I meditate. I do yoga. I remember to take my vitamins. I still drink tons of water. I'm not sure if this lifestyle change has kept the cancer at bay, or whether I'm one of the lucky ones for whom their high-grade cancer just doesn't return for whatever reason.4 Regardless, I can definitely say that having bladder cancer has changed who I am as a person – for the better.
Have you talked to your doctor about navigating sex with bladder cancer?