woman with a monster lurking over her shoulder

All It Takes Is a Trigger

I hadn't been thinking about bladder cancer a lot until recently. During treatment, that's all I thought about. I thought about it for the next several months every time I'd go in for a checkup.

As 2 years turned into 3 and 3 into 4, I thought about it less and less. Eventually, I hardly thought about it at all. But all it took to bring back the dread was a trigger.

My neobladder felt different

About 4 years after my bladder removal and neobladder surgery, I woke up one morning to the realization that something inside of me wasn't quite right. I wasn't suffering from mild gastrointestinal distress. More concerning was that my new bladder felt "different."

Even 4 years into this ordeal, I still was sure exactly what "normal" felt like, but this was different from what it had been. I was also producing more mucus than usual. I wondered about a bladder infection but had no idea what that would feel like with my neobladder.

Was this it? Was a bladder infection even possible with a neobladder?

Secretly looking for blood in my urine

Another possibility began to gnaw at the edge of my consciousness. I tried not to acknowledge it as though I could ignore it out of existence. But it was there, inside my mind, whispering insidious doubts. I'd catch myself glancing surreptitiously into the toilet, not wanting to admit to myself that I was looking for blood.

The same was true every time I'd change underwear. I wouldn't obviously look to see, but I managed to catch a glance to be sure there were no red stains.

I got better, and the fear receded

I eventually got better, and the unacknowledged fear receded. My new bladder is made from a piece of my small intestine, so I reasoned that it made sense that intestinal problems affected it as well.

I again worried less as time went on until I stopped worrying at all. But the fear was merely dormant, not gone. All it would take was another trigger to reawaken it.

Back pain was another trigger

I've suffered back pain for much of my life. When I was younger, it often accompanied a kidney infection. In later years, it was more likely due to arthritis. But after the cancer, I again feared every back pain might be kidney-related.

I haven't had a kidney infection in decades, but there were other things that could go wrong with kidneys. Kidneys are connected to the bladder and can suffer from maladies beginning there. Every sore back brought back the surreptitious surveillance of the toilet and underwear.

Regular trips to my chiropractor relieved the pain, and soon, the fears lessened. About 6 to 7 years after cancer, I was better and worried less.

My body is trying to tell me something

I remember my surgeon telling me to listen to my body, that it would tell me when something was wrong. I think it's been trying to get my attention for the last month or so.

I’m exhausted all of the time. When I'm not working, I'm sleeping. Some of that is no doubt the new job I started.

It's fairly high stress, and I've put in as much as 43 hours of overtime in 2 weeks. That is 123 hours total, 3 workweeks in a 2-week period. I've lost a little more than 20 pounds, but then that may also just be the job. But there are other things.

New symptoms and feeling unwell

In the last couple of weeks, I've experienced bouts of numbness in my feet and hands, usually when I'm most tired.

Blood work at my annual checkup a few weeks ago showed me to be anemic. Fortunately, no blood was detected in a stool sample, and nobody mentioned an elevated white cell count. Still, there must be a reason for the low hemoglobin and hematocrit.

I'm scheduled for a colonoscopy and upper endoscopy in the next week. I both look forward to the procedure, hoping it will show all is well, and dread it in the fear it won't.

Cancer is the monster under the bed

I've come to realize that, even if I never have another cancerous cell in my body, the cancer will never really go away. It will always be the monster under the bed, the bogeyman in the closet.

I just hope that when the upcoming tests turn on the lights, there will have been nothing by my imagination lurking in the shadows.

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