In a car, a woman with an iced coffee in hand looks out of the driver side window at the sunrise.

Reflecting on the Ups and Downs of Bladder Cancer One Year Later

It has finally come: my one year “cancerversary”. One whole year of officially having my membership to the club no one joins voluntarily. I have struggled with what I would say when this day came. Would I look back on the year grateful for life? Bitter at the hand dealt? Angry at the experience? Sad for the things lost? I went to bed the night before fully prepared to just start crying immediately on the big day.

Feeling at peace

Oddly enough, I just woke up feeling at peace. There is something about the distance between D-Day (diagnosis day) and being 12 months into cancer maintenance. I mean it really does suck to have cancer and to have been through everything I have, but strangely there is no rage in me about it. I actually spent my cancer anniversary sipping iced coffee, driving to Savannah, Georgia, and listening to my music way too loud. As I drove through the morning light, I just took in the feeling of being OK with where I was and where I am today.

The pain I felt when I was first diagnosed

When I was laying in the ER, curled up in pain, hearing those fateful words “you have cancer,” I remember literally screaming. Cancer means you die. I didn’t want to die. Then I was told I would have a radical cystectomy. I would have a hysterectomy. Not only would I have a pee bag stuck to my stomach, but I felt that by losing the plumbing I wouldn’t be a real woman. Cancer stole so much of my identity in a short amount of time. Conversely, it seemed to take ages to get myself back.

Regaining my abilities and finding acceptance

It took months to be OK with my ostomy. It took almost half a year to regain my full ability to be active and go back to work. And only recently did I stop thinking I would drop dead at any moment. I know my statistics, I know that I will be in some form of cancer treatment for the rest of my days. I know there will be hiccups and roadblocks along the way. However, today, I am alive, and that’s a pretty big deal.

Bladder cancer has changed my perspective

It's funny how literally looking death in the eye forever changes you. I wouldn’t say going through this experience made me a better or more grateful person, but it has profoundly changed how I view life. I don’t sweat the small stuff, because I see just how small they are. Maybe it's the lack of hormones, but I joke this is probably the most even-keeled I’ve been my entire life. I roll with life’s punches and understand that I can’t be in control of every little thing. I take joy in the quiet moments more.

Appreciating the quiet moments and time with family

After months in a bustling hospital with doctors, nurses, social workers, and family in my face constantly, I really enjoy a quiet morning having coffee alone. I hug my family a little closer. It was incredibly hard being treated in a hospital that was 5 hours from my entire family. I spent many days and nights alone as people couldn’t travel to be with me 24/7. I will never take for granted how easy it is to sit up in bed without assistance. I also kind of miss the sensation of peeing normally sometimes.

Bladder cancer aged me

When I look at photos of myself before cancer and now, I can see how all of this has changed me physically. Not just the new hardware on my body, but you can see it in my eyes and face. Cancer aged me. I tell my husband that the last year feels like it was 10 years long. Somehow I survived almost dying from blood loss, being diagnosed with stage IV metastatic bladder cancer, having a radical cystectomy, starting immunotherapy, buying a house, living in a world pandemic, and moving across Atlanta. I’ve experienced more in the last 12 months than I have in my almost 30 years of living.

Thankful to the cancer veterans who guided and supported me

To the cancer veterans who took my hand and showed me the ropes when I was new to all of this, thank you. I have heavily relied on the virtual support of my fellow fighters as I learn the lingo, the ins and outs of ostomy life, and I’ve been inspired to tell my story.

For those who are newly diagnosed with bladder cancer

To those who are newly diagnosed, who are afraid and lost in all of this: I am shaking my fist at the sky with you. I want you to know that you are strong, and I anxiously look forward to celebrating your cancerversaries, bell ringing, NED results, and all the milestones in between.

So I finish with my favorite saying I usually reserve for my birthday: cheers to one year down and a toast to MANY more to come.

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