Marilu Henner Encourages Tough Talks on Bladder Cancer

For Bladder Cancer Awareness Month, BCAN and actress Marilu Henner have partnered with Genentech, a member of the Roche group, to share her personal story and help people navigate challenging – but necessary – conversations about bladder cancer. Marilu knows firsthand the importance of these discussions. In 2003, she and her now husband Michael Brown were on vacation when she learned he had blood in his urine. Michael had told his urologist about this symptom before Marilu knew about it, but the urologist told him it was nothing to worry about.

“I am incredibly dedicated to my health and the health of my loved ones, so for me, this was something to worry about,” said Marilu. “Michael’s first urologist had retired, so he saw another doctor at the practice who diagnosed him with bladder cancer. The doctor recommended one treatment approach, but I had a sense we should be doing more. We then saw other doctors, and worked together to choose the treatment recommendation that was right for us.” Thankfully, Marilu and Michael were able to have an open discussion about his symptoms, diagnosis and how to manage his cancer.

But it’s not so easy for many people. A recent survey of 1,000 people in the U.S. age 18+ found that 50 percent of men and 35 percent of women say it would be difficult to discuss common symptoms of bladder cancer with their significant other. Moreover, the survey also found that 40 percent of people are concerned about burdening their significant other when talking about a serious health issue, such as bladder cancer. But talking about bladder cancer is particularly important now because people with advanced stages of the disease have more treatment options than they did in the recent past, including cancer immunotherapy. Cancer immunotherapy is a type of medicine designed to work with a person’s own immune system to fight cancer. Immunotherapymay also affect normal cells.

“Cancer immunotherapy is the most important advancement in over 30 years of research in treating bladder cancer. In the past year, the FDA has approved several immunotherapy medicines, which use your body’s own immune system to help fight cancer,” said Dr. Arjun Balar, an oncologist with New York University’s Langone Medical Center. “People with advanced bladder cancer should talk to their doctor to see if immunotherapy might be right for them.”

To help navigate that conversation with your doctor, as well as conversations with your family, friends and loved ones, download the “Say Something” discussion guide. The guide provides useful tips and suggestions to help navigate those tough conversations about bladder cancer.

“For me and Michael, openness, humor, kindness and listening were key in dealing with the disease,” Marilu said. “When your partner has cancer, you’re in the journey together, so it’s important to be open and honest, even about the most intimate of issues. Working through these intimacy issues definitely made us closer.”