Well it's best to start at the beginning. I was a 32-year-old police constable when my journey started, after spending the 10 years before joining the force as a commercial diver working in an oil field and as a salvage diver. I often found myself covered in crude oil and other contaminates (I often wonder if this is the cause of the cancer, but who knows). I have a beautiful young daughter who was only 6 months old when I found out that I had bladder cancer; this was one of the hardest aspects of the illness. I've always enjoyed being active and my hobbies include snowboarding, sky diving and motorcross. Sometimes I've had to sit and recover following surgery, and this has been a challenge!
I've had many years of urethral strictures, and had become used to infections and problems, but noticed something a little different was going on. I began seeing a lot of blood in my urine and noticed a sudden urgency to wee. I knew something was wrong so I made an appointment to see my GP. My GP gave me antibiotics repeatedly for an infection that didn't exist, and the symptoms didn't get better. I went back and saw a locum who straight away referred me to the Urology team. I had previously had a cystoscopy with no mention of cancer. When I woke up from the general anaesthetic, I was met by the surgeon whose words will stay with me forever. He said, "It's not an infection, you have cancer." These words crushed me at the time.
I was diagnosed with a Stage T1 Grade 2 initially, but then received a call stating that the pathology showed it was actually Grade 3. I was initially given BCG treatment, which I couldn't tolerate – it made its way into my kidneys due to the tumour location at the base of my urethra. I was then told I required a radical cystectomy (RC).
One of the biggest changes is that I always look for the toilet no matter where I am. Other than that, the new bladder has been great. I was unfortunate in that my bowel leaked after the RC. I became critically ill and had a long stay in intensive care. I had a temporary illiostomy for six months, but this has now been reversed.
One of the biggest positives I found was the Fight Bladder Cancer support group. I have had a huge amount of support from people all over the world and have forged some amazing friendships from it. It's nice to have people who have been through the same experience and can try and answer your questions, day or night. I still see people in the early stages of their diagnosis, asking the same questions I did. I know how they feel and I try and give them the support they need.
It's been amazing. It's a very hard time when you're first told you have cancer. Sometimes you just need to moan and have a shout at the world, other times it is a, "Has anyone had …" type question! I now appear to have more mums than you can shake a stick at who constantly nag me to take things easy and it's kind of nice!
Get the diagnosis into your head before you tell people. It helps to deal with it before people starts asking you questions. Remember that you are not alone and that there are amazing groups to help. Fight Bladder Cancer is one of those. Take every day as it comes, and remember your family, as it's easy to isolate yourself. One main thing is to remember to ask for help.
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