Shelby Got Bladder Cancer at 21 Years of Age

I was diagnosed with bladder cancer in 2021 at the age of 21.

One day I decided to make an appointment to see my OB/GYN because I was having what I thought were painful periods. The doctor did the usual pap smear, which was painful. I have a family history of endometriosis and I remember the doctor saying, “I want to get an ultrasound, but I’m not sure. The only thing it would do is confirm that you have endometriosis, which I can tell you right now, you do.” Of course, I agreed. Whatever it took for her to determine what was going on. A month later, I had my ultrasound and that was when it was discovered I had a tumor.  My doctor wanted to make sure that it was a tumor, so she sent me for an MRI, which confirmed that it was.  I still had no clue of what was happening. I received a referral to a urologist, and I soon booked an appointment.

Shelby was diagnosed with bladder cancer at 21 years of age.
Shelby was diagnosed with bladder cancer at 21 years of age.

During my visit with the urologist, he looked over my ultrasound and MRI and thought that the problem could be some endometrial tissue escaped and latched onto my bladder. To confirm that this was the problem, he suggested that I have a cystoscopy to remove it.  The doctor resected the mass and the surrounding tissue just in case it was impacted and sent it out for pathology. The procedure happened on a Wednesday and by that Friday, my results were available online.

When I read the pathology results, I did not know what they meant. It said I had “Non-invasive papillary, transitional cell carcinoma, low grade.” What was that? So, I Googled it, and the results said that it was cancer. That is how I found out I had cancer. I was in total shock. I did not let myself believe it because I had not officially heard from my urologist.

The time came for me to have my catheter removed that I had put in after my cystoscopy. My mom was with me, and the urologist sat us down and confirmed I had bladder cancer. At 21 years of age, I had bladder cancer. He said, “In my 30 years of being a medical professional, I’ve never had anyone as young as you have bladder cancer.” I immediately just wanted answers. I wanted to know why this happened to me. What if I would have just ignored it and let it do its thing? What if I had found it when I was 60 or 70? I wanted to know the statistics. My doctor went on to say that the good news was that they removed all of it and the next steps were to lay out my future plans.

For the first year, I was to have three cystoscopies every three months. In August of 2021, I had my second one, and I will go back to November, February, and May. After that, I will go twice a year for two years and once a year for the rest of my life.

This chapter of my life is still fresh and being written. Everything happened so fast; it was a lot to take in. The time from finding out there was a mass on my bladder to the procedure and then finding out it was cancer was a two-month window. I did not have the time to sit back and think, okay, it could be terrible if it is cancer. If it were to get worse, I would have to go through chemo, lose my hair, and am only 21. Thinking about other bladder cancer patients, I am so grateful that I could get it over with quickly. I know that is not the case for everyone.

My journey is unique because of my age, and for me, it was essential to talk with someone who understands what I have gone through.  I met a girl I went to school with named Liz, and she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at 19. She and I stay in touch and check-in to make sure we are doing okay. It is good sometimes to have other people besides your family to talk to. As much as your family loves you, they have not been through it.  Even with them, I would try to put a smile on my face and stay positive, even if that is not how I feel at the time. That does not take away from how supportive, helpful, and positive my family has been. I have a great support system.

When I needed to find out more information about bladder cancer, I found BCAN just by Googling. It felt good to find people who were like me, and I knew that it would be a good resource. With all the research I have been doing, I am still desperate to find statistics because I have not found anyone like me yet and I would love to. God forbid this happens to anyone else, but I would love to be there for someone to be a support system and guide. I felt alone for a little bit, but I feel like it helps to get my story out and be someone’s confirmation that it is okay and that you are not alone.