The Importance of Early Detection
When it comes to early detection of bladder cancer, we can all turn to Google or any search engine and find out what the typical symptoms are. Typically blood in the urine, painful urination, pelvic pain, back pain, and frequent urination. These symptoms tend to come and go, often making patients think it can't possibly be something as serious as cancer, or for that matter bladder cancer.
Bladder Cancer is the 5th most commonly diagnosed cancer and yet receives very little attention in the media like Breast Cancer, Lung Cancer, Colon Cancer, Prostate Cancer and Skin Cancer.1 My hope is that will change in the very near future since bladder cancer is being talked about, more conversations are continuing about bladder cancer awareness and advocacy.
Overlooking the symptoms
For me, when it came to detecting bladder cancer I was urinating more frequently than usual and with sudden urgency. When I would urinate, I was not entirely emptying my bladder, which I did not know; all I knew was I would have to urinate again sometimes within thirty minutes of urinating last.
I would also feel drained at times with occasional back pain, which I did not think much of. I figured I must have had a long day at work, maybe I didn't stand up or walk around enough at work too and that was why I was having back pain.
Subtle signs of something more
I decided to schedule a yearly exam with my primary care physician to get blood work done and find out what was going on with my health. Things were getting to a point that family and friends were noticing my frequent trips to the bathroom, and it was starting to disrupt my life.
My exam with my PCP was typical. She asked me about medical history, we discussed what brought me in, she did an exam and blood work. I was sent home waiting to hear back from the doctor. The very next morning the doctor's office called and said "We need you to come in, the doctor would like to go over your blood work with you."
Of course, my anxiety levels go up, and I start to analyze what could be wrong with me. I think we all try to self-diagnose ourselves so we can be prepared for what the doctor is going to tell us or we have some idea of what to expect. My doctor came in the room and said, "Mr. Garbett, your kidney function is really high and I need to get you to a nephrologist like yesterday!"
Early detection in bladder cancer
So my PCP gave me the name of a nephrology clinic and told me to make an appointment as soon as possible. Without knowing any other information I called the nephrology clinic and made an appointment. The nephrologist talked to me about my symptoms and what was going on with me. He ran all kinds of blood work as well and then sent me home. He called me immediately the next morning and said I needed to be admitted to the hospital. I responded, "Doctor, I have family plans this weekend, can this wait until Monday?" The nephrologist responded with "No, your kidneys are basically shutting down and you need to be admitted to find out what is going on."
I called my mom and immediately told her the news, and she quickly came and picked me up and took me to the hospital. While at the hospital, they did an ultrasound of the lower abdomen and found a tumor that was in the bladder. I was scheduled for a Transurethral Resection of Bladder Tumor (TURBT), which is a procedure which bladder tumors are removed from the bladder wall.
TURBT and follow-up cystoscopies
During the first TURBT procedure, the urologist removed a tumor the size of a softball, and because the tumor was papillary urothelial carcinoma, low grade, the urologist had to do another TURBT a few days later to ensure he was able to get the entire tumor and to take another look in the bladder. I was hospitalized for a total of fourteen days, and once released I bounced back pretty fast, and the kidneys returned to normal. The urologist kept me on surveillance with cystoscopies being done every three months.
I encourage anyone experiencing any of the symptoms of bladder cancer to see your primary care physician sooner than later to detect bladder cancer in the early stages. Do not let the signs fool you as they can because they come and go, and we tend to think they are related to other things going on in the body, and we don't think cancer or even bladder cancer. Stay proactive, listen to your body, and see your doctor if you have any doubt something does not seem right.
Editor's Note: With heavy hearts, we regret to inform readers that on February 27, 2021, Curtis passed away from stage IV bladder cancer. Curtis's advocacy efforts and writing continue to impact many. He will be deeply missed.
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