Bladder Cancer Surgery Took Way More Than My Cancerous Tumor

Last updated: October 2022

Bladder cancer, like any cancer, is a rollercoaster of a ride. Regardless of an individual's sex, religious beliefs, medical history, and more - it is a difficult journey to follow.

As I have written before, everything happened very quickly for me, from symptoms thru testing to diagnosis and treatment. The situation was critical. There was only one thing on my mind at the time. Firstly, what can be done to save my life, if anything? When can it be done? Everything was around survival and persevering life.

Thankfully scans provided the results needed to allow my life-saving surgery to proceed.

Moving forward after surgery

Then comes the post-surgery recovery – healing physically was a mountain to climb. Then the emotional healing - processing of all I had been through and what, in reality, it meant for me and my body going forward.

I have talked and written often about the impact of my stomas. That adjustment should never be underestimated, but you can overcome it and live a good and relatively normal everyday life as you did pre-surgery.

Surgical menopause and sex

As time went on and I was healing physically and emotionally, I had more time to think longer term. This, of course, is a positive. The alternative quite easily could have been my life. That said, my total pelvic exenteration surgery was radical. Savage, some might say. It was a complete clearance of my pelvic area. This, of course, meant the removal of all my pelvic organs and induced surgical menopause.

Often during recovery, it was hard to tell if the emotions were just what you would expect post-surgery or the impact and side effects of menopause. In reality, it was probably both.

Very little support was provided to me in this area at the time. Apart from knowing it would happen, no one discussed it with me pre or post-surgery. Then the following impact, which, as I got better, became a neon "Keep out!" sign in my mind. My vagina had to be shortened as part of the surgery. I remembered pre-surgery a vague mention of the use of dilators to lengthen my vagina and to make intercourse possible.

Losing the ability to have intercourse

Around the 6-month mark, I gave dilators a go.

It just felt very clinical and uncomfortable. My husband and I were so glad I was still here, which outweighed losing the ability to have intercourse.

As time progressed, this began to heavier on me. I felt I had been robbed of so much. The stats on bladder cancer (the average case is 73 old male) kept drilling a hole in my head. It saddened me so much that this had been taken for me after being in a loving marriage and my early 40s.

Being a woman

It wasn't just the intercourse itself; you can, of course, be close in other ways, but I felt like part of who I was and being a woman had been ripped out during the surgery.

I don't have any children of my own and never wanted children, so that wasn't the missing piece. It is hard to explain. It just felt strange. I just felt an emptiness.

Vaginal reconstruction is possible in some cases, but it does lengthen the operation, and a plastic surgeon would be necessary. To be honest, my surgery was long enough. My surgical team did all they could to get me through the operation and keep me alive, so this was not an option in the mix.

More recently, we have tried to explore things sexually again. We will see how it goes.

Juxtaposition

What I would say to anyone in the same position, I have learned that other feelings alongside "grateful to be alive" are allowed. In fact, they are very natural.

It would help if you gave yourself time to emotionally grieve whatever losses you have experienced due to your cancer journey. This won't happen all at once. Things along the way trigger a very personal and emotional reaction.

For me, at times, especially if I am feeling emotional, it's like a juxtaposition. One half of my brain tells me the operation is why I am still here, and that is all that matters, while the other half of my brain reminds me this operation took so much from me.

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