What I Wish I'd Known Before Being Diagnosed With Bladder Cancer
In January 2017, I began my bladder cancer journey with an official diagnosis: low-grade, low-stageurothelial carcinoma. But in reality, my bladder cancer journey had started months and months before my official diagnosis, when my only symptom was blood in my urine – blood so sparse that I wasn't even sure if that's what I was seeing on the tissue paper.
Truthfully, I had ignored my symptoms for the better part of a year, writing off the occasional blood in my urine to a UTI or wonky hormones. When I finally went to the doctor to find out what was going on, they found a growth on my bladder about four millimeters in width. Clearly, it had been allowed to grow for a while, and several other smaller growths had popped up as well. Had I known that blood in urine could be a sign of something serious, I could have removed the larger tumor before it had a chance to get so large – and possibly could have had a less arduous recovery after the tumor was removed.
Looking back, there are quite a few things I wish I would have known, symptoms only being one. Here are a few others:
Bladder cancer is common (and survivable)
The minute I got my diagnosis, my life flashed through my eyes, and the first thing I thought of were my two children. I'm going to die, I thought, feeling the panic rise in my chest. I won't get to see my kids grow up! The thought was horrifying.
Having never heard of bladder cancer, I figured it was incredibly rare and therefore probably lethal. But in reality, bladder cancer accounts for about five percent of all cancers in the United States.1 Additionally, the five year survival rate for all types of bladder cancer is a whopping 77 percent. For non-invasive types, like mine, the survival rate is even higher.2
The treatment is fairly non-invasive
When I first got the news, my life wasn't the only thing that flashed before my eyes. I immediately had visions of month-long hospital stays, multiple rounds of chemotherapy, and losing my hair. But my urologist reassured me quickly that we weren't there yet. Every cancer journey is different, but for non-invasive bladder cancer the treatment is relatively non-invasive: I would undergo a surgical procedure, called a TURBT, where the tumors would be resected and removed from my bladder. The urologist would then apply a topical chemotherapy agent where my tumors used to be, and then attach a catheter that I would keep for the next few weeks while my bladder healed. Once I woke up from sedation, after a brief recovery, I would be able to recover at home, on the same day of the surgery. Any additional treatments – either radiation or just routine checkups, would depend on the tumors' pathology.
Life doesn't end with a cancer diagnosis
Getting a cancer diagnosis is traumatic for just about everyone. But as a naturally dramatic and deeply anxious person, I literally thought my life was over. After my diagnosis I spent the next four days in bed, crying, researching survival rates, and hugging my children. But when Monday morning rolled around I was almost surprised to discover that the world kept on moving. Kids needed to be carpooled, dinner needed to be made, and for some reason, the minutiae of daily living helped me move forward in my grief. People survive – and thrive – despite a bladder cancer diagnosis.
How are you raising bladder cancer awareness this month?