My name is Anne Abrahams. I am a 56-year-old bookkeeper, married to Stuart for 34 years, with two grown-up sons, Craig and Scott. I enjoy photography and good food, and my passion is travel. I feel blessed to be here after bladder cancer entered my life 5 years ago …
What’s the matter with me, I never normally have to wee so much. That’s how it began, and then the burning started. I phoned the doctor, and managed to get an appointment in a couple of days, and got some antibiotics. A few days later there was no improvement, I tried to get another appointment and none were available, so asked if I could get a different antibiotic to try. Eventually they agreed, and I dropped in another water sample when picking up the second prescription. A few days later, still no improvement, so I went back again and saw a doctor. He suggested drinking cranberry juice, at which point I said okay, but if there’s no improvement, I would like to be referred to a specialist. He seemed quite reluctant, until I said I had private medical insurance, at which point he agreed to have a letter ready for after the weekend.
I got my letter, as guess what? The cranberry juice didn’t seem to be terribly effective!
The urologist immediately began batteries of tests: ultrasound scan, PET scan, MRI. Meanwhile, the weeing was becoming more and more frequent and painful.
The worst day was when I was sent for a weird bladder flow test which had me strapped to a table and turned upside down. As I got changed into a hospital gown, I realised that my trousers were wet. Yes, I had wet myself and hadn’t even realised. I was mortified.
I was told that the test would take some time, but after a couple of minutes the test was stopped, and the consultant came in.
He asked me if I had been to Africa. Specifically, if I had ever swum in Lake Malawi. I was now completely bemused and said I hadn’t. He then said I should come into his office, as he needed to speak to my consultant, and have me admitted to hospital that day.
I went home numbly to pack my bag, rearrange my work schedule, and let family know that I would be in hospital that evening.
The next day I had a operation to take some cells from the bladder under general anaesthetic (TURBT). I was told that there were some growths, and that they would try and remove them, whilst taking some samples for analysis. At this stage, cancer hadn’t been mentioned, although I was really starting to wonder what on earth was wrong with me. I finally managed to get a decent night’s sleep though, as I was catheterised!
A couple of days later – Friday 13 August 2010, I had my appointment with the consultant to finally find out what was wrong, and what the treatment would be. As we were called in, I could see the expression on my consultant's face was grim. A couple of pleasantries, then the words no one wants to hear: “I’m afraid to tell you that you have cancer."
Stuart and I fell into each other’s arms, and the consultant discreetly left the room for a few moments to “get some notes.” The tears flowed silently, and I remember saying, “at least I know what it is.”
He returned, and we discussed what would happen. The cancer was serious enough for me to need to have my bladder removed, but there was a good chance of this operation being a success, as the cancer didn’t seem to have escaped the bladder yet.
I’m a very black and white person, so as far as I was concerned, that was it:
Step 1 - operation to be done
Step 2 - cancer to be stopped
Step 3 – I would survive, I was not going to die.
Some of my family were urging me to have a second opinion; I think they were more worried about me having a stoma bag than I was. The tumour was very fast growing, and I did not want to delay and give the cancer a chance to escape.
Two weeks later, I was having my RC. After 10 days in hospital I returned home, and there were many more hurdles, including a post-operative DVT, which was a damn sight more painful than the bladder cancer, 6 months of “belt and braces” chemotherapy, even though all the lymph nodes taken were clear, and finally a pulmonary embolism just for good measure!
I pee in a bag. That’s it, no big deal. Yes, I had some issues with leaks early on, which can really get you down, but they are solvable with persistence. It is now a very, very rare occurrence.
I am probably fitter now than I ever have been, as I stopped smoking on the day I was diagnosed, and now eat better and exercise regularly. I don’t take life for granted, every day it’s great to be alive.
Since I recovered, we have travelled the world extensively as my motto has certainly become “live for today” There is no point putting off that trip you’ve always wanted to do. Life’s too short, and you don’t know what’s round the corner.
By knowing that there are hundreds of real-life “experts” who have been through what I am going through and who are always online to call on for advice. The professionals are great, but they don't have the day-to-day experience of real people living with a urostomy.
If you are just starting on this journey, yes, it’s daunting and scary and there will be miserable times, but this cancer can be stopped, and your life will go on, even without your bladder. It’s just a bag!
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