I’m a journalist. It was written into my DNA a long time ago as I woke up every morning watching the Eye Opener in Boston. News is my life. It’s how I’ve made my career. And it kills me to be sidelined during a big story.
But here’s why I am.
I’m home recovering from my second TURBT. That’s the trans urethral resection of a bladder tumor. Yes, in a 2020 that was unpredictable and at many times unforgiving, 2020 dealt me an unexpected surprise in Bladder Cancer.
The journey started at the height of the protests last May, I woke up one morning and was faced with something I hadn’t seen before: two bright spots of blood in my urine. I had been feeling a little weird down there and went to get checked out in urgent care. They gave me antibiotics and urged me to follow up with a urologist which I did. It led to a summer of tests and some follow up tests and a camera test called a cystoscopy where right there as I watched, the doctor said, “See that? I believe that’s bladder cancer. And THAT is what caused the bleeding.”
I’m in my mid-40’s with a wife- and two kids in middle school and high school. The doctor asked if I was a life long smoker. I’m not. Did I work in a factory with chemicals. I don’t. And along the way she said something that really stuck with me, “Sometimes it’s just bad luck.”
With that, my first TURBT was scheduled. In the middle of COVID, with people avoiding medical centers at all costs. I was heading right into the biggest medical challenge of my life. The surgery was set for September and I had several weeks to prepare.
If you haven’t heard of Bladder Cancer you’re not alone. Many people haven’t. There will be more than 80,000 new cases of Bladder Cancer in the US this year. It’s the fourth leading cause of cancer in men, less common in women. Yet according to what I’ve seen, it’s underreported, under-discussed, and certainly under-publicized. If you DO know someone with bladder cancer they’re usually quite a bit older than I am.
But here I am. It’s my story. I’ll own it.
My first TURBT was scary. I suppose any anesthesia surgery is. In general, I read as much about cancer as my mind will allow and then I stop when it gets to be too much. I knew all about the TURBT by the date of my surgery. It’s done with special cutting tools that go in through your front plumbing. My last memory was being wheeled into the operating room. And then deep sleep while they did the rest. They got the tumor out and took more tissue from my prostate. I woke up in the recovery room with my first catheter. No way to sugar coat things: the recovery is painful.
I’m oversharing I know.
But not many other people are. So I will.
The true recovery time is 6-8 weeks. I was out of work for several days and remoting for work a week longer. It was shorts and loose clothes the entire time and no lifting. It takes at least that much time to deal with the discomfort and related bladder issues. And the internal issues then take weeks longer to resolve.
At the end of the first week I got my official pathology from the doctor: high grade papillary urotheleal carcinoma. Confirmation that it was for sure bladder cancer. And confirmation that it was “high grade” which is more aggressive cancer that likes to spread. I consider it a split decision because we believe they also caught it early.
Healing from the TURBT came next.
Then the treatment course of action.
And a second opinion.
I went to another top notch cancer center and they agreed with everything prescribed in my treatment plan. Even if it’s not what I wanted to hear. I would go in for a second TURBT to cut a little deeper in to the bladder to make sure any other irregular cancer cells are gone. Bladder Cancer is sneaky. It’s deceptive. It loves to return. So high grade cancer needs an aggressive plan of action.
I’m a news guy like I said. Journalism is what I do. So I looked at my first TURBT recovery time, and tried to schedule my second— around the NBA finals, and the World Series, thinking LA could be in both, and the election. It was scheduled for three days after the election just within the recommended window to get the second TURBT done.
And that’s where I am today. I’m recovering from my second TURBT where doctors again cut into my bladder to see if my cancer is staying away and how I’m doing. This is a deeper cut into the bladder to make sure there’s no sign of other abnormal cancer cells in the bladder muscle. And now I’m home, heavy on pain meds, hobbling around like an old man for a few days. As the Presidency was just announced, and the celebrations are happening across the country, I’m laid up in bed recovering.
The next pathology will tell me a lot.
If the cancer cells are staying away, then it’s likely on to weekly immunotherapy treatments using a strain of tuberculosis to trigger an immune response in the body to fight any future cancer (yes truth is sometimes stranger than fiction), and a potential lifetime of camera scans to make sure they stay gone. I haven’t needed “traditional” chemotherapy yet (and hopefully I won’t), and haven’t needed to discuss bladder removal, both can come with bladder cancer far down the road. And don’t ask me about survival rates. You can google them. It depends on type and stage of the cancer and where it spreads.
I can’t/won’t let my mind go there yet.
In the meantime I will use my voice to raise awareness for something that most people just don’t know about. And I will urge taking your health seriously. I will urge not being afraid to go to the doctor. It’s safe to do so. If you see blood in your urine. Get checked out.
And I will urge one more thing: suspenders!
It became clear to me after my first TURBT that the bladder can be a particular pain point when you sit or when you drive. Belts make it even worse. So I stopped wearing them. And an amazing thing happened. People who read my story started sending me suspenders instead. First my cousin, then coworkers, and friends. Gray suspenders, blue suspenders, red suspenders, Super Man suspenders.
You’ve literally lifted my spirits- AND my pants. I’m grateful for so many people reaching out and I thank you.
Learn about Bladder Cancer from some great resources like the Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network at BCAN.org