It has been raining in Cincinnati for the better part of a week now. As I sit here enjoying the cooler than normal weather, rain steadily, yet quietly falling, and my morning coffee, my mind wanders to 5 years ago.
Five years ago, I wasn’t yet diagnosed, but within a few days, I would present in the ED, doubled over in pain. The ED where a doctor actually laughed at me. He had the audacity to outright ask me if the blood clots I was urinating weren’t associated with my menstrual cycle. The ED that was just going to discharge me, once again, with meds and no referral of any kind.
I also remember the kind PA who had compassion for me when I burst into tears when she was sent in to discharge me. She graciously gave me 3 urology referrals, which was the single act that ended up saving my life. She deserves sainthood.
I was 40 years old. I knew something was wrong with my body. I didn’t know what was wrong with my body, but there was definitely something wrong.
I was scared. Terrified. I couldn’t sleep. I barely was eating, yet my weight kept climbing. Everything irritated me. Everything. Physically and mentally. I had no life. I had to leave for work 30 minutes earlier because I often had to stop 1 or 2 times on the 7 mile drive to urgently use the bathroom.
Then there was the constant pain that came in waves. I ran to the bathroom numerous times a day…I couldn’t even dare to keep count of the times. Sometimes, I was urgently making that trip as often as every 5 minutes.
I couldn’t sleep. I was living on 2-4 hours of sleep per night, if I was lucky. I was physically and mentally exhausted. Exhausted to the point of tears at times.
I never presented as a “typical bladder cancer patient.” You cannot urinate blood clots on cue. I never had outright blood in my urine, as the most common physical symptom of bladder cancer is said to be exhibited. I wasn’t old. I wasn’t male. I was never a smoker. I never worked with or had extended, frequently repeated exposure to heavy chemicals.
Did you know that most of the bladder cancer research is based on the older, white male experience? That stereotype is destructive and dismissive. Sexist even.
The checklist that doctors use to gauge whether or not a patient is “at risk” of bladder cancer is outdated. It is completely invalid. Not to mention the fact that we ALL are at risk for bladder cancer.
The research and checklists don’t take into account that women have slightly different urinary systems from men. Therefore, we just might display symptoms differently! (Who’d-a thunk it?!)
Five years ago a few days would make a massive change to my entire life. Now, it seems like I should be able to let it all slip away into the past like rain falling from the sky.
Cancer doesn’t work like that though. My life is different now than I would have ever imagined. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, it is just a thing. I’m glad my life is the way it is now. I’m glad that modern medicine has come far enough that I still have a life to live.
Still, I would not have chosen this path if I could have helped it. I could hang onto anger, but I choose not to. Anger is not productive for the long term. Instead, like this morning, I choose to relish the sunlight when it dares to peek through the clouds. I choose to look for the rainbows instead of dwelling on what might have been.
I wish the same for you.