Ana’s Story: “All I could think of was my three sons”

“I just had this voice inside of me saying, “This isn’t normal. This isn’t right.”

Just days following her 50th birthday, Ana Franks heard the three words she feared the most: you have cancer. She shares her moving story of being diagnosed with bladder cancer in hopes of helping current or newly diagnosed patients understand that they are not alone, and that this disease exists. To this day, the news of her diagnosis still feels like a fresh wound. This is Ana’s story.

“When I’m transported back to think about that moment, it still feels like it’s happening right now. It still feels so real.”

Ana and her youngest son

I had no symptoms and from everything that I have read about bladder cancer, you’re supposed to have these urinary tract infections, all kinds of little issues. I had nothing.

I was turning 50 and I got my period, and it didn’t go away. It just stayed and stayed and stayed, and it was just abnormal. It was nothing like I’ve ever experienced in my life.

At one point I was in my dining room, and it was like my water broke. I was in a pool of blood and my husband was outside working. I said to my son, “You need to go get dad. You need to get dad right now.”

I had multiple appointments with my primary doctor and she told me that this is completely normal for a woman who’s about to go into menopause. “This is normal. This happens. Don’t worry about it. You’re 50 now and this is what happens.”

Ana added, “I said, no, this isn’t normal. She said, ‘Well, if you Google it, you’re going to find out that this happens all the time.’ Sure enough, I Googled, and it does happen to some women, but I just had a nagging feeling that this wasn’t what was happening to me, and I didn’t have any pain. I didn’t have anything. I have no family history. I had nothing. I just had this voice inside of me saying, “This isn’t normal. This isn’t right.”

Finally, I told my doctor that I wanted an ultrasound. She said it was a waste of my time and money. I said, “It’s my time and money to waste, so let’s go and get this done.” She then scheduled the appointment.

The morning that I went for my ultrasound, the bleeding completely stopped. I went to go get the ultrasound and the person doing the test obviously couldn’t say anything about the results. By the time I walked out of the office, got into my car, and pulled out of the parking lot, my doctor’s office called, saying, “We have an appointment for you to go see a gynecologist tomorrow and a urologist the day after that.”

I went to go see the gynecologist first. The gynecologist said, “I don’t even know why you’re here. You have a growth. It’s inside your bladder.” The next day I went to go see the urologist, my little angel. He has been the greatest doctor in the world. He said to me, “Yeah, you’ve got a growth. It’s about the size of a golf ball. It’s inside your bladder, and we’re going to do a cystoscopy just to see what’s going on. I wouldn’t worry about anything. You’re a woman. You don’t smoke. You don’t work with chemicals. You have no history of bladder cancer in your family, so you have nothing to worry about.”

Then, my doctor said, “We’re going to schedule you for a transurethral resection of bladder tumor (TURBT), a scraping of the tumor, and it will be done at the hospital. Again, I don’t want you to worry because I really don’t think you have cancer. You’re not a candidate for it.” We then made the appointment for the TURBT. I went to the hospital and everyone around me kept saying it was nothing, just a little growth. It was probably a cyst and to not worry about it, but I didn’t really believe it.

When we went to the hospital for the TURBT, I said to my doctor, look, I know that you can’t tell me anything until you do the biopsy and you know what it is, but you’ve been doing this a long time, so I just need you to look at it and tell me if it is or isn’t cancer. I’ll worry about what stage and everything afterward. He said, “I promise you, I’m going to tell you.”

We went in on August 30, 2022, and he did the procedure. He was able to get everything out, but the growth was clinging enough to the bladder wall that he scraped as much as he could. He left me with a very, very thin bladder wall. After the procedure, he said, “It’s cancer. We don’t know what stage. We don’t know what it is, but it’s cancer.”

All I could think of was my three sons. I thought, “I’m not going to be here for my youngest son.”

Ana with her family

Because of my family history, I was thinking that I was supposed to have heart disease. That’s what I was supposed to have. That’s what my father died from, what my mother died from. Most of the people in my family have heart disease. I’m sitting there in the hospital and they’re checking my heart and they said, “You’ve got the heart of a 21-year-old woman.” I mean, who knew it would be bladder cancer?

About a week and a half later I got the confirmation that I had non-muscle invasive stage one bladder cancer. My doctor went in and did another cystoscopy.

Because my urologist had scraped so much of my bladder, the wall was too thin and his concern was that those chemicals were going to go into my body and cause other issues. He recommended giving my bladder a little time to heal, and if intravesical therapy needed to be done, he would do it in three months.

I got the intravesical therapy and the TURBT was successful.

I’m now approaching one year after my diagnosis and have been getting checked every three months. Thank God the cancer has not come back. Everything has been good. The TURBT was as perfect a procedure as it could have been, and I’m very, very lucky.

I think the hardest thing about this entire thing was just the depression that I had after the fact. I mean, I still think about it, and I still feel that fear. It’s a fear unlike anything because you know people who have died of cancer, you know people who have suffered from cancer, and you never think it’s going to be you. I wasn’t worried about myself physically. I wasn’t worried about what I had to go through. If I lose my hair, I lose my hair. Whatever had to happen, had to happen. I just had to survive this so I could be here for my sons, and I could be here for my family. That’s all that mattered to me.

Nothing else mattered to me other than surviving.

I still feel those powerful emotions every time something happens or every time I have an appointment. I’m very transparent about my journey, and I want to be because maybe it can help someone else. When I’m transported back to think about that moment, it still feels like it’s happening right now. It still feels so real. I’m hoping as the years progress, maybe the crying gets a little bit less, but I hope I never forget that fear and never forget that feeling.

I needed to know everything about my bladder cancer. I needed to know what could happen. I just started Googling and that’s how I found BCAN.

Through discovering BCAN, I participated in a Walk to End Bladder Cancer and had my team together. Next year we’re going to make it an even bigger team. I want to get as involved as I possibly can. I want to spread the message about bladder cancer because too many people don’t know.