It sounds silly, but hear me out: Having bladder cancer has given me a renewed appreciation for my health and my mortality, sure. But it's also given me a phobia of my own pee.
Blood in my urine was my only symptom
When I was diagnosed with bladder cancer in early 2017, my one and only symptom was gross hematuria – in layman's terms, visible blood in my urine. When I ask other people with bladder cancer to describe their symptoms, I hear stories of toilet bowls streaked with blood, or of urine the color of cranberries, for months on end. But that wasn't my experience. A couple times in 2016, my pee looked pink on the toilet paper – but it was such a pale shade of pink that I wasn't sure if the light was playing tricks on me.
Now, I associate blood in urine with cancer
Before cancer, I had had blood in my urine once or twice before. (I'd normally say this is TMI, but you can't really discuss bladder cancer without discussing pee, right?) Born with a defect called medullary sponge kidney, my right kidney is porous and prone to producing enormous kidney stones that sometimes get trapped in my urethra, causing gross hematuria and mind-boggling flank pain. So blood in my urine wasn't a new thing before cancer, and it was associated with kidney stones. But now, needless to say, it's associated with cancer. And now not a day goes by since my diagnosis that I'm not checking the color of my pee.
Anxiety after diagnosis
It might seem obsessive and strange – but hey, that's anxiety for you. And getting cancer at 28 will definitely give you anxiety, particularly when you had none of the risk factors for getting it in the first place. Pee, and biannual cystoscopies, are my only clue whether my cancer has returned. So I'm a little obsessive about checking (and I'm sure I'm not alone).
Which is why I have this advice to give for anyone else afflicted with urine anxiety, like I am: Watch what you eat.
Seeing the signs again
This past summer, I discovered pink pee on my toilet paper once again. Panicked, I checked my symptoms: No fever, no flank pain, no nausea – which meant no kidney stones. Just as I was about to call my mom and tell her that my bladder cancer had returned, I remembered something I heard once, hidden in the recesses of my brain. Was it an urban legend? I wasn't sure. But I remember hearing that beets could turn your urine pink (or even bright red if you ate enough of them). And I had definitely had a fair amount of them at dinner.
Spoiler alert: I didn't have cancer
A cursory search of the Internet confirmed what I had heard about beets – and I also learned that blackberries and rhubarb can do the same.
So pink pee doesn't necessarily mean cancer. But it does mean I still have a phobia of pee. And now, a mild anxiety toward beets.
How are you raising bladder cancer awareness this month?