This is the portion of my cancer journey that I remember the least about. I'm sure that I arrived at the hospital like any other person going in for a procedure, and I registered the desk. I waited somewhere in a waiting room until I was called back. I changed from my street clothes and into a gown - it didn't fit, they never do. I'm sure that I kissed my wife and told her everything would be fine. I'm sure I did the same thing with each of the children and anyone else who was there.
The cystoscopy procedure
An IV was started, I was given some sort of horse tranquilizer, and out went the lights. I woke up in the recovery room. At some point, my wife and the kids were allowed to come back. I think the kids went out to a waiting room, and the doctor came in and met with me and my wife. He confirmed that his assumption was correct and that I had, in fact, had a tumor in my bladder that was cancerous. Before I could ask any questions, he told me the tumor had been relatively small, that it had attached itself to the lining of the bladder, not to the muscle, and since he was in there already, he saw no reason to leave the tumor and had removed it. I remember him asking me if that was all right with me.
What about radiation or chemo?
He asked me if I had any questions. ‘What about radiation?’ I asked. ‘What about chemotherapy?’ He told me that since I no longer had any cancer in me, there was no reason for any other treatments. The last thing he said was that his staff would schedule a follow-up scope soon and they would be in touch.
As I write this article, I remember being thankful that the tumor had been very small and that it had not done more damage or been more substantial. From a physical standpoint, this was the end of my cancer journey. I had gone from the onset of symptoms to no evidence of disease in less than 90 days. Now, 13 years later, I understand that the psychological and the emotional toll of my cancer were and are the real disease for me.
The emotional journey
When I heard that I was cancer-free and that I could put back on my street clothes, check out, and go home, I thought that would be the end of it. I thought that the physical cancer was the hurdle and that I had cleared it. I was naïve. I thought that with the tumor gone, everything else cancer-related would be gone with it. I thought that the fear, the doubt, the helplessness, and the hopelessness would all leave as simply and as painlessly as Dr. Unni had removed the tumor. I could not have been more wrong.
I cannot say if there's a way to prepare for the emotional journey the cancer has allowed me. I can say with absolute certainty that I was not prepared. That, if there was a way to prepare for this journey, I didn't know about it. I don't think I made it to the car after my procedure before the ‘what if’ gremlins made their first appearance. What if the doctor was wrong? What if the cancer comes back? There were a dozen more what if’s, maybe two dozen more. Each one would pop up, join hands with the ones before, and merrily skip along, up my brain, spreading anxiety and terror as they went. I vividly remember feeling completely isolated.
I could not show fear
I was the husband. I was the father. I was the leader. I could not show fear. I could not even give breaths to my fears because I had to be strong for the people that counted on me. This was the most debilitating part of the entire ordeal. If I'm going to be transparent, all these years later, being strong for others and not feeling comfortable showing any type of fear are still the most crippling effects of cancer.
Seek healing for the emotions
It is imperative to me that these articles are more than just my story. Find a way to give your fears a voice. Find a safe place, a place where you can unpack all the baggage that comes along with cancer. Reach out, beyond your discomfort, beyond your fears and beyond any preconceived notions of how you should act or react as you continue on this journey. This is the first time that I have sat with all of this openly and honestly. I am confident that it will be cathartic for me at some point, but right now it is hard, really hard! I hope reading this will encourage others to look beyond the physical aspects of cancer and seek healing for the emotions as well.
Have you talked to your doctor about navigating sex with bladder cancer?