Sebrena’s Story: Bladder Cancer Turned Into “Resolution”

Editor’s note: BCAN had the pleasure of speaking with Sebrena on her bladder cancer diagnosis anniversary. When asked how she felt about being a one-year survivor, she stated “I am stronger in one sense, but the struggle is still present.”  This is her story.

In March 2022, I noticed blood in my urine and initially dismissed it as a UTI. I decided to visit my nurse practitioner, hoping that they would treat it. However, the symptoms did not improve, and I had to return for a second and third visit. Finally, my nurse practitioner referred me to a urologist as she suspected something more serious.

Sebrena with the resolution declaring May as Bladder Cancer Awareness month in South Carolina

Since I had previously seen a urologist in 2021 for other issues, I immediately contacted their office for an appointment. During the visit, my urologist reviewed my history and informed me that I had a low risk of bladder cancer, considering I was a non-smoker and had never smoked. However, she recommended a cystoscopy just to be sure.

On June 2, 2022, I underwent a cystoscopy, and to my shock, there was a tumor in my bladder. The urologist handed me several sheets of paper without providing any further explanation as to what was going on. I was left speechless and overwhelmed by the unexpected diagnosis of bladder cancer at age 58. The urologist suggested scheduling surgery to remove the tumor on June 16, and although I was taken aback, I agreed. The medical assistant at the office seemed nonchalant about the news, which added to my disbelief and confusion.

When I returned home, I struggled to process the diagnosis and decided not to share it with many people. I informed my husband but asked him to keep it confidential. I disclosed the diagnosis only to three friends at church and requested prayers from my supportive coworkers. I did not want the attention and emotional burden that usually accompanies such news.

On June 16, I underwent my first surgery, a TURBT (transurethral resection of bladder tumor). Reading through my medical chart, I contacted the office for clarification about my tumor but received a response stating that the urologist disagreed with the pathology report that said my cancer was non-muscle invasive. To confirm her suspicion that it was muscle invasive, she decided to have her tumor board review the results, which would provide further insights.

About two weeks later, I returned to the urologist’s office and I requested to speak with her to discuss the tumor board’s decision. However, I was informed that my urologist was not available, as there had been a mix-up with the scheduled date of the tumor board meeting. I had to wait for the urologist to get back to me again. Finally, she called me about a week later to inform me that the tumor board agreed the cancer was muscle invasive. She recommended an MRI to ensure the cancer had not spread before proceeding with a second surgery. When it came time for my MRI, all I could do was cry in the office while waiting for my test.

As time passed, I started losing weight due to stress and the weight of trying to comprehend everything. I would look at my bed every night and fear going to sleep because I was afraid of dying.

Being the only child, I was happy to have my dear friends taking care of me during all of this. One morning, I sat in my backyard and had a “come apart,” as my cousin says. I was talking with a co-worker’s mother that morning who said the sweetest prayer to me, and I finally told myself, “Put your big girl panties on”—no more pity parties for me. 

At that moment, I realized I needed to gather my strength and face the challenges ahead.

Before my July 28 surgery with a different urologist, I consulted with an oncologist. The day I went to that appointment, I cried in my car before entering. My oncologist was kind and explained that I did not need him now. In the future, if I needed chemo or radiation, he would be there for me.

As of March 30, 2023, I remain cancer-free. Nevertheless, being diagnosed with cancer has permanently changed my life. I constantly worry about any pain or recurrence and have learned we must seize each day and avoid dwelling on the “what ifs.”

I offer daily prayers of gratitude when I wake up and before bed. I am not the same individual I was on June 2, 2022.

Earlier this year, I discovered BCAN while researching bladder cancer online. I printed the Bladder Cancer Basics booklet, a valuable resource. I call it my “bladder cancer bible.” I wish I had found BCAN earlier. I recently watched a Zoom support meeting where I heard heartbreaking stories from other women who had undergone more challenging journeys, including bladder removal. However, my experiences seem relatively easier in comparison.

My advice to other patients is to have faith in your urologist, but do not be afraid to advocate for yourself or change doctors if you feel the one you have is not a good fit. Ask questions. Inquire about a support group.

I am also grateful for the support my family and friends showed me and grateful for my doctor, Dr. Brian Cope at Prisma Health here in South Carolina.

As a note, I am happy to say this April, at the request from me to a co-worker who worked with the South Carolina Legislature, they passed H4156, designating May as Bladder Cancer Awareness Month in the state. Representative Dennis Moss initiated this process, and I proudly display the resolution in my office. It is a tribute to all individuals who have faced this disease.  I am grateful.