My husband Bill was diagnosed with bladder cancer in May 2010, just before the Memorial Day holiday. He was experiencing blood in his urine and immediately reached out to his doctor in New York City. We didn’t have a thought that it could be something serious. Believing that it was just an infection or perhaps a pulled muscle, I sent him to the doctor alone. I will never forget that phone call later in the day when he struggled to control himself while telling me he had bladder cancer. Neither of us had ever heard of bladder cancer, nor did we even know there was such a thing. We were completely taken by surprise and unaware of any warning signs or symptoms. That evening, between our disbelief and anger, we shed tears but promised each other that we would fight the battle that was just about to begin. We broke the news to our family but vowed to continue ahead with our holiday plans – life would go on, and we would be victorious over this beast! Bladder cancer was the third form of cancer for my husband. He surpassed both previous cancers without incident and without the need for chemotherapy. This new bladder cancer diagnosis was just one more bump in the road – something that could be easily managed and overcome as well… or so we believed.
The cystectomy was performed the following month at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, without the need for post-operative chemotherapy. The pathology report disclosed no evidence of the spread of cancer to lymph nodes. We breathed a huge sigh of relief. After several weeks of recovery, my husband returned to work. Our lives were beginning to feel normal again, and we were working through the adjustments that the loss of one’s bladder demands.
Approximately six months later, Bill experienced a lot of physical changes and illnesses – things that we did not understand nor could explain. Ultimately, doctors determined that he had metastasis to the liver. Bill passed away three weeks after learning of the metastasis, a mere ten months from the date of his first diagnosis.
At first, I didn’t know what to do or how to act. Having been married just two and one-half years previously, I viewed our lives as just beginning. The fact that it ended so suddenly was virtually impossible to grasp. Sensing how lost and alone I was, my sister proposed a fundraising walk in Bill’s memory. She did the internet research for our event and discovered BCAN and their dedication to this form of cancer.
Although I wasn’t sure I was emotionally up to the challenge, she pushed me to join her. Together we worked tirelessly on the project and successfully raised thousands of dollars. I soon recognized that I needed to rely on my family and friends to help me deal with my loss.
They picked me up and placed me back on my feet when I needed it most. I came to realize that my husband’s cancer changed me, sculpting me into someone who understood things more deeply, hurt more frequently, cried more easily, lived more passionately and hoped more desperately. Eventually, I could acknowledge that sometimes cancer just happens. It is not a cosmic test nor is it punishment for some past sin. It is not karma. I now accept that what little time we had was precious and ours alone. To me, our short life together resembles a tapestry, rich and complex, woven with threads of past joys, struggles, triumphs, sorrow and bliss, and Bill will always be part of the tapestry that makes up my life story.
And yet, I knew there were new doors to be open. I did not want to see anyone travel the same road and learn about bladder cancer the way I did – the hard way. It became important to me that the prevalence of bladder cancer and its possible devastating effect be known to everyone. Raising awareness and supporting the bladder cancer community became my focus and goal.
Working to fulfilling BCAN’s mission in my locality and becoming an advocate for bladder cancer patients seemed like the next logical step. I ultimately formed what is now the Pennsylvania Chapter of the Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network. I have worked to have the federal government and the State of PA recognize May as bladder cancer awareness month. I raise awareness through annual fundraising walks, health and wellness fairs, social media, and participation in local discussion groups. Working one-on-one with bladder cancer patients, both locally and across the country, remains to be an important part of my advocacy efforts.
I need to thank BCAN for what they have done for me. I guess you could say I have “grown” and I have BCAN to thank for that. Through all of this, I have learned that conquering my sorrows can be a marathon journey. For me, it started with a walk, but there will be no finish line because tomorrow I will get back up to help the next individual receiving a life-altering bladder cancer diagnosis. I am determined to personally get back up to live, love and dream again.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]