SEE RED? SEE YOUR DOCTOR.

by Valerie MacLeod, Director, Bladder Cancer Canada

Bladder Cancer Canada has an awareness campaign called "SEE RED? SEE YOUR DOCTOR." It shows a field of yellow lemons and one red lemon. The campaign is to raise awareness of the most common sign of bladder cancer: blood in the urine. It encourages people to get to the doctor sooner instead of ignoring the signs.

Symptoms:

Blood in the urine is the most common sign of bladder cancer. Other signs include frequency (need to go often), urgency (feeling of immediacy), burning (while passing urine) or pain (often in lower back). If you see red or have any of the other symptoms, RUN do not walk to your doctor’s office and ensure you get a referral to an urologist as soon as possible

I was fortunate, my family doctor found microscopic blood in my urine during a routine checkup in 2008. So before I could actually "see red" I was off to see an urologist who diagnosed me with bladder cancer.

Bladder Cancer!

Bladder cancer? I didn’t even know that kind of cancer existed. The urologist removed the tumors from the bladder wall and prescribed 6 immunotherapy treatments.

The immunotherapy used for bladder cancer is BCG (Bacillus Calmette-Guerin). BCG is used to treat bladder cancer because it stimulates immune responses that can destroy cancer cells within the bladder. It is held in the bladder for 2 hours and does not impact the full body like chemotherapy. BCG may be used to treat early-stage cancer, but it is used most commonly to prevent the return (recurrence) of noninvasive bladder cancer. After the 6 BCG treatments I went on with my life as if the tumors were just a bump in the road.

In 2010 the cancer came back aggressively, and although the urologist removed the tumor again and the cancer had not spread into the muscle, he recommended removing my bladder. I didn’t agree with him.

Bladder Cancer Canada and Inflammation

Luckily for me, between 2008 and 2010, David Guttman and Jack Moon created Bladder Cancer Canada. Through Bladder Cancer Canada, I got a second opinion from one of the doctors on the Medical Advisory Board. He looked at my tests and agreed that no operation was needed. Needless to say, I switched to that second urologist for continued care!

The continued care included regular checkups and 11 additional treatments of BCG. People’s reactions to BCG tend to increase over time and I was no exception. This treatment causes inflammation in the bladder to stimulate the immune system and by September 2011 my body went into what I call "full inflammation mode". I was in considerable pain from the inflammation, which is not uncommon with BCG. I decided to help reduce the inflammation through going on an anti-inflammatory diet. Thanks to the anti-inflammatory diet and time, the inflammation receded and I was able to get on with a regular life again in early 2012.

Four years after the first urologist wanted to remove my bladder, I have had no further operations and no reoccurrences! Because of the referral to the second urologist from Bladder Cancer Canada I still have a bladder. I credit Bladder Cancer Canada for saving my bladder.

My Journey

My journey originally started out very lonely. I was a young, non-smoking female – I did not fit the normal profile for someone with bladder cancer. I couldn’t find any women with bladder cancer. I talked to friends who were breast cancer survivors about my experiences and although we could talk generally about staying healthy, their treatment options were very different from mine. They had chemotherapy, I had immunotherapy. I would see the inside of my bladder on a color television every three months for the first few years. If things went well the checkups would become twice a year and then annually forever.

For a while I was angry that I didn’t get one of the "trendy" cancers, I felt very alone. I felt like I was entering a different universe. Everything was new: medical language, acronyms and procedures.

Carol Shields, the Pulitzer Prize winner author said it best: "being diagnosed with advanced … cancer was like waking up on a train in the middle of a stormy night, in a foreign land, where everyone spoke a different language.

Finding Bladder Cancer Canada helped me learn that new language. It also helped me feel less alone. Their site gave me excellent information plus someone to talk to about what I was feeling and experiencing.

I joined the Bladder Cancer Canada Board because I want other people to get diagnosed early, like I was, and to have the guts to get a second opinion, like I did.

I believe that together we make the journey easier for those with cancer and I believe together we can reduce the number of people who have to start that journey.

In addition to joining the Bladder Cancer Canada Board, I decided to be in control of as much of my own health as I could. I started the anti-inflammatory diet due to the inflammatory reaction I experienced in 2011 and have chosen to stay on that diet because of the known link between cancer and inflammation.

I have also changed my exercise program. I sleep more and worry less. I read credible books and used alternative therapies like energetic healing. I never stopped learning and kept my health as a priority.

The Canadian Health Care System pays for all of my checkups with the urologist as well as the BCG treatments. I paid for the alternative therapies and books, which were not inexpensive but worth the price because I think that everything I did, and continue to do, add up to the healthy life I am now living.

Prevention

If you do not have bladder cancer you can do some things to help prevent it from occurring:

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  • Stop smoking – smoking is one of the leading causes of bladder cancer. Smoking is believed to cause about half of bladder cancer cases among men and women.

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  • Limit your exposure to chemicals – If you work with a class of chemicals called aromatic amines, be sure to follow good work safety practices. Industries where these chemicals are commonly used include the makers of rubber, leather, printing materials, textiles, and paint products. Aromatic amines are also found in many hair dyes, so it is important for hairdressers and barbers who are exposed to these products regularly to use them safely.

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  • Drinks plenty of liquids – There is some evidence that drinking a lot of fluids – mainly water – may lower a person’s risk of bladder cancer.

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  • Eat a lot of fruits and vegetables – Some studies have suggested that a diet high in fruits and vegetables may help protect against bladder cancer, but other studies have not found this. Still, eating such a diet has been shown to have many health benefits, including lowering the risk of several other types of cancer.

    In the End

    I eventually became grateful that I didn’t get one of the "trendy" cancers. I realized I was to be a voice for a relatively unknown cancer that is actually the 5th most common cancer in Canada –  with approximately 7,900 new diagnoses this year. It ranks number 4 in men (5,900 new cases) and number 12 in women (2,000 new cases). Caught early, the prognosis is excellent for most people. Caught late, it can be a life altering or life ending disease.

    It is a cancer that has a recurrence rate of nearly 80% and is therefore the most expensive cancer to treat per patient from diagnosis to death. Once diagnosed, lifetime urology checkups will be required.

    I said it before: I believe that together we make the journey easier for those with cancer and I believe together we can reduce the number of people who have to start that journey.

    What part can you play in this big dream?

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  • Volunteer 

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  • Join a support group

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  • Get others involved – your children/grandchildren, nieces/nephews, neighbors

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  • Donate

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  • Give your feedback, ideas and opinions

    And although I wouldn’t have believed this in early 2010 – my diagnosis has been a blessing. I am a different person, I am a better person! I am grateful for my husband, family & friends; my excellent medical team; Bladder Cancer Canada and the Canadian Health Care System.

    Together is the only way we can achieve our dreams – a life without cancer for each of us and a world without cancer for everyone!
     
    About the Author:

    Valerie MacLeod, MBA, is a business coach, facilitator and trainer focusing on Strategic Thinking, Strategic Planning and Managing Change. With her technical background (an MBA and a B.Math) she loves the challenge of coaching technical leaders and teams to fine-tune their leadership skills.  Her business website is www.ValerieMacLeod.com.

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