Life after bladder cancer can still be beautiful
David Ritchie's story
David Ritchie was diagnosed with Bladder Cancer in 2019 and was left utterly devastated. He had always been extremely healthy and a keen runner. So, after being told what would need to happen to treat his bladder cancer, he felt his world had ended.
However, it had not. David has since gone on to run a marathon and has many more planned. Life for David is different, but absolutely do-able! Read David's inspiring story of determination below.
After a few years of symptoms and misdiagnosis, I was finally sent for cystoscopy in October 2019. I was told that I had a tumour in my bladder and quite casually informed that I would probably have to have my bladder removed.
I still remember feeling numb and thinking, 'how am I going to cope with this, and how am I going to be able to tell my family that I have cancer?'
I was fearful for myself, but I did not want my wife and children to have to be worried about me. I almost felt embarrassed and shameful about what I had, and I would have much rather kept it to myself. But, of course, that was not possible.
Once my family got over the initial shock, they seemed to accept it and rallied around me with fantastic support. By this time, I was going through a ‘why me?’ period.
I had always tried to look after myself throughout my life- watching what I eat and being active. I have run in many races, including nine marathons. So, why had this happened to me? This remains an impossible question to answer even today, and I don’t waste any time thinking about that anymore.
My recommended treatment was a TURBT to remove the tumour, 12 weeks of neoadjuvant chemotherapy and then a radical cystectomy, and this was all to happen just as we moved into the 1st Lockdown. My goodness, my world was very different during that period.
I had my 1st surgery and confirmed that my tumour was muscle-invasive, which confirmed that a bladder removal was the preferred course of action.
My chemo impacted me, especially after it, but I coped with this and tried to get on with life as usual.
I elected to be assessed for a Neobladder reconstruction and, following a further surgery, had it confirmed that I would be suitable for that.
My consultant put me in touch with a couple of his patients who had had a similar experience to mine, and I took great comfort in meeting with them and seeing for myself that their post-operative condition was pretty good. That gave me hope that I could also get through this.
I got confirmation that my surgery would take place at the beginning of April 2020 but was then informed that I would no longer be able to have the Neobladder due to the lockdown limitations in the hospital. Instead, I would have to have a stoma and urostomy. This was not my preference and led to further ‘how will I cope with this?’ moments. However, I tried to remember that I was probably fortunate to be having any procedure at that time when things were so very restricted.
My surgery took place on April Fool's day 2020; I was hoping it was all an elaborate joke, but no.
I then spent five days in the hospital without visitors before convincing the doctors to let me go home. It was wonderful to get home and to see my family. They were so supportive and gave me the ability to build my strength up again quickly.
Getting used to my new accessories (urostomy) took a few weeks; I bought a belt from eBay that holds my bag, and I wear it every day; it looks like a bum bag. I also got a hernia-type support strap which I wear when running; this is also very good.
My recovery was quick; I ran 10km just seven weeks after my surgery and realised that my running career was not over.
A plan to attempt to complete my 10th marathon was then hatched. On the 24th of April 2022, I completed that in Blackpool to raise money for Fight Bladder Cancer. I am now signed up to run the Crete half marathon in October and am targeting to run 1000 km in 2022.
During Easter this year, my wife, daughter and I had a week in the Canaries; this was a key milestone for me as I have always loved travelling and holidaying with my family, but I was not sure how I would get on with it all.
Our holiday was fantastic, the travelling was fine, and I swam in the pool and sea most days. I am already looking forward to another holiday: two weeks in Portugal this summer.
My experience with bladder cancer has been one of initial shock and concern about how my life would change. Still, I have found that I was able to return to a very acceptable lifestyle with a positive can-do attitude.
Things are different now, and I need to adapt to many circumstances, but it is do-able and not as bad as I first thought.
If you are going through the initial stages of diagnosis, be assured that you can get through this trauma and develop a renewed lust for life, having been reminded of how precious it is.
The GP community's awareness of bladder cancer needs to be improved to ensure early diagnosis, as it is essential to treat this quickly to provide the best patient outcome. Fight Bladder Cancer plays a significant role in getting that message out there, for which I am very grateful.
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