A confused man looks at his reflection in the toilet bowl as question marks float in the background.

Bladder Cancer: Know the Signs

While out of town working on a project in Denver, I was startled when I noticed blood in my urine one morning. So I did what most men I know would do: I ignored it. But as I continued to pee blood for a few days, I consulted Doctor Google and decided I probably had a urinary tract infection (UTI). I went to a nearby urgent care clinic and was told there was no sign of infection but that I should visit my family doctor when I got home.

Noticing blood in my urine again

By the time I got home, the bleeding had stopped and I thought nothing more about it until about a year later. It was September 2017. I had just started a new job in Vallejo, CA. My wife stayed in Washington State with our daughter and son-in-law. I took temporary lodging in the Bay Area until we could find a proper home for us and our two fur babies. Days after arriving in California, I started noticing blood again. And again, believing I could have a UTI, I returned to Doctor Google and chose to self-treat by drinking 100% pure cranberry juice. After a few days, the bleeding stopped and life went on.

Continuing to ignore the signs during a hectic time

A couple of weeks later, I noticed more blood and, once more, chose to self-treat with cranberry juice. This time, the bleeding did not stop. In the meantime, I had found and closed on a home for my family. It was an especially busy time for me with what was still a new job, trying to coordinate delivery of the furniture and personal items we had put into storage, and schedule a time to pick up my wife in Washington to bring her to our new home.

The feared phrase, “you have cancer”

After a couple of delays due to raging California wildfires, we finally set a date. The day before I drove back to pick her up, I passed a large blood clot. OK, that got my attention. I immediately scheduled a doctor visit for the day after I would bring my wife home. We arrived in California on October 29, I went to the doctor on October 30, I was given orders for a CT scan to be done on November 1, and on November 3, 5 days after bringing my wife to California, I heard the unforgettable words, “you have cancer.”

My diagnosis and aggressive treatment plan

I was ultimately diagnosed with papillary urothelial carcinoma (bladder cancer) at age 54. Follow-up appointments and testing would indicate that I had multiple tumors in my bladder, the largest of which took up about half the space inside my bladder. Though it had not yet progressed beyond stage 1, I was encouraged to be aggressive in my treatment due to the high chance of recurrences based on the size of the mass. I made the decision to have my bladder removed.

Bladder cancer signs & symptoms

In the coming days, with the support of my doctors and my own research, I would get a crash course in bladder cancer. One of the things I learned is that blood in the urine is one of the most common early indicators of bladder cancer. Signs & symptoms of bladder cancer as found on BladderCancer.net include:

  • Blood in urine
  • Bone pain
  • Decreased appetite & weight loss
  • Fatigue & weakness
  • Frequent urination
  • Inability to urinate
  • Pain in lower back & abdomen
  • Pain or burning during urination
  • Swelling in feet
  • Urgency in urination

What could/should I have done differently?

As I prepared for bladder removal in January 2019, I thought back to the day I first noticed blood in my urine. I wondered if and how my situation would have been different had I made different choices. What if I saw my doctor after my visit to the urgent care clinic in 2016? There’s really no way of knowing, but if you are reading this and have noticed any of the symptoms listed above, I encourage you to stop what you’re doing and schedule time to talk with a doctor. Bladder cancer is highly treatable and can have very good outcomes, especially when treated early.

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