When you learn that you have cancer, it changes you for ever. Every clean bill of health is a celebration, and an invitation to go back to living, but… waiting once more for the ticking time bomb, waiting for the other shoe to drop. And then, there are complications of treatment that never let you forget.
I thought that my bladder cancer was the worst thing that ever happened to me, but I was wrong. Two years ago, just after my mother's 83 birthday, she developed leukemia. She quickly went from an independent woman with her own apartment and car to assisted living. Her doctors were so unresponsive, when her hemoglobin went down to 8 and she didn't have the strength to move I had to fax them a note to schedule the transfusion to get a response. Dealing with them was a total nightmare. Watching my mother die was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. But that's another story. I tell you this because if any of you have any negative comments about your experiences with your doctors, don't hold your tongues on account of my being a physician. I know there are some real good doctors out there because most of us who become physicians really want to help people, but believe me, I know that some of my colleagues a real jerks.
Back to the story. Just after Thanksgiving of 2006, I noticed that I was having urinary discomfort and frequency. I took my Detrol with the hope that I could get the kids back to the airport without any problem. I survived the airport runs, but the Detrol didn't help. I figured, since I was due for a 6 month cystoscopy in December, I would just schedule it. Unfortunately, my urologist was in India for a month. My symptoms rapidly progressed to frequency, burning on urination, and an intense burning after urination that lasted a good 30 minutes after each void. Out of desperation, I started an antibiotic before obtaining a urine culture, but the culture after 1 dose of Levaquin was negative, and the UA did not show bacteria or white cells, only red cells. I also noticed that my symptoms were the least in the morning on awakening and progressed over the course of the day. Basically, even though it was uncomfortable to hold my urine, I had less severe pain if I urinated less frequently. As a result, I concluded, logically I think, that irritation of the stricture was causing or at least contributing significantly to my problem. I contacted the covering urologist who felt that due to the stricture I needed a higher and more prolonged dose of Levaquin. In addition he had me taking vitamin C to acidify the urine and Urised to relieve the symptoms. After an additional week of miserable symptoms with no improvement, he finally scheduled a cystoscopy at which he opened a tight stricture. He showed me a picture of my bladder which was flaming red and hemorrhagic. He told me that he felt it was too inflamed to do any biopsies at that time.
Opening the stricture resulted in immediate relief of the intense pain I was having I wasn't out of the woods since I still had a severely inflamed bladder, but I was still better than my preoperative state. I saw the covering urologist a few times because I was still so miserable At one visit he told me the urine cytology at the time of the cystoscopy showed cancer, but he said it could be a false positive due to the intense inflammation in my bladder. He confirmed my belief that the stricture had caused the problem and reassured me that I would feel better. It took two more weeks. I missed only 2 days of work – one for the cystoscopy, and one clinic day because I didn't think I could manage the train ride. We planned a follow up cystoscopy with biopsies in 3 months.