Kesha’s Story: Anyone Can Get Bladder Cancer. I Was 39 Years Old.

I was diagnosed with bladder cancer in December 2019 at the age of 39. Everything happened pretty fast. Before my diagnosis, I was having what I thought were recurring urinary tract infections for six months. I went to my doctor, and he would prescribe me antibiotics, which did not work, so we assumed that I was immune to the medicine. I was working and going to school and thought maybe it is because I am about to graduate and I was under a lot of stress. I was pushing myself and my body was exhausted.

Kesha Walker, bladder cancer patient
Kesha W,

One day, I was at school, and one of my career coaches said, “Miss Walker, you don’t look good. You need to go home.” I thought maybe it is a kidney stone because every time I went to the restroom, I saw what I thought were kidney stones being passed.

On December 13th, 2019, I decided to go to the emergency room because I had horrible pain in my stomach. When I arrived, they took my blood pressure, sent me to get an x-ray and gave me morphine to help ease the pain. Eventually, the ER doctor came back and advised that they would like me to stay in the hospital because they found a mass on my bladder and it was pressing up against my urethra. The mass on my bladder was sloughing off into my urine, so what I thought was kidney stones I was passing was the mass.

They kept me in the hospital, and I had surgery on the December 15th, 2019 to give me a urethral stent and a Foley catheter. When it was time for me to get the Foley removed, the doctor let me know the mass was four by two centimeters and a grade T4. I had no idea what that meant. I just knew that I had to find a doctor to know my next steps and figure out what was going on. I could not see a doctor until the end of January 2020 because many hospitals were not taking new patients. I finally met with Dr. Deville, and he referred me over to Dr. Jean Hoffman-Centsis at Sibley Hospital in Washington, DC.

Meeting with Dr. Hoffman was probably the best thing that could have happened to me on this journey. She was amazing. When I met with her, she let me know that they could not treat me like other patients, and I had to do my treatment in reverse because it was then T5 bladder cancer and almost at the back of my vaginal wall. It had only been a little less than a month from when I was told it was T4. The cancer was very aggressive; I had to have my bladder removed because of that, a radical cystectomy.

Not only did I have to have my bladder removed, I had to have the back wall to my vagina rebuilt, a total hysterectomy, my appendix removed, a hernia mesh and the muscle out my right leg to rebuild the vaginal wall. I did not know how to process hearing that. I was in total shock. Dr. Hoffman let me know that usually, they would try to do chemotherapy first to see if they could shrink it, but the type of cancer I had, squamous cell cancer, they have never treated it in the bladder before. 

The day of the surgery approached; I opted to get the Indiana pouch. I was expected to have an eight-hour surgery and wake up in the recovery room, but I woke up in the ICU with a tube down my throat. I had no idea what was going on. I was running a fever 102-104, vomiting and I could not hold down any fluids, and I had to get a blood transfusion. The following day I woke up in excruciating pain. The doctor came, telling me to stay calm while he took the tube out of my mouth.

I stayed in the ICU for four days and eventually went to a regular room where I stayed there for two weeks to recover. When I went back for my follow-up with Dr. Hoffman, it was then time to start the chemotherapy treatments. She gave me the names of the three types of medicines I would be receiving and went to BCAN’s website to do more research, which helped a lot to prepare me for my treatments. I do not remember what three medicines I received, but it was an inpatient treatment for eight hours every 28 days at the Sibley Infusion Center.

After my first treatment, I got a blood clot in my picc line. The chemo took a toll on me not only physically but mentally. I remember one night I was coming from using the restroom and I fainted because I was dehydrated. My potassium and magnesium were very low. I had to stay in hospital for about a day when that happened. I did not have an appetite because I was nauseous. I had night sweats and restlessness. Benadryl was the best thing because I could sleep through it.

The worst part was going back and the 48 hours to get the white blood cell booster. Sometimes I did not want to lift my head off the pillow. I would tell my mom that I could not do it. I wanted to give up. The treatments sucked the life out of me. I understood when people would say “battling cancer” because sometimes it is hard to muster up the willpower to keep going. I could not stay at home by myself because of the panic attacks I would have. I got catheterized and even though I had the hysterectomy, I had hot flashes.

I would panic because my hands were slippery, and it was hard to put the catheter in. It was the absolute worst but giving up was not an option because my kids, my son was 22 and my daughter 17 at the time, and my mother reminded me of that. I was so happy when the chemo was over, and I was also starting my immunotherapy treatments.

I received my immunotherapy treatments every 21 days, and I am still receiving them. I have days where I do not feel like going, but I know that is not an option. Dr. Hoffman does not want to stop the treatment because the kind of cancer I had grew so rapidly; she did not want to risk it coming back.

There are still times where things seem bleak, but I have a fantastic support system. I did not initially tell my daughter what was going on and she found out when I woke up in the ICU the day of my surgery. That was hard on me, but her, my son, my mother, my fiance and his mom, have been nothing but my rock to lean on. They did not want me going through this by myself. If there is ever a time when I am depressed and feel like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders, I know I can count on my family to keep me going. I am still recovering, but I have faith that things will work out.

If I had to tell another bladder cancer patient going through this I would say there is no demographic. If you have what you think are recurring urinary tract infections, blood in your urine, or anything that seems off, go to your doctor. Do your research. Visiting BCAN’s website helped me a lot. That is how I chose to get the Indiana pouch. Also, do not give up, be patient, and you cannot do this by yourself.