2014 for me was a year just like any other year, chugging along without any major mishaps. I’d run a web based business for the previous ten years which had been relatively successful and kept me out of mischief.
Working from home suited me, I enjoyed the peace, quiet and relative calm of my days. It also meant I could be there for my children for school drop-offs and pick-ups, and accompany them on class field trips. The father of my children and I had a great relationship and we all enjoyed spending quality time together on weekends, just like every other ordinary family.
We weren’t rich, we didn’t drive fancy cars or live on a yacht, but we were relatively content with our lives and got through the best we could.
Then one day, I noticed something strange in the toilet bowl after I’d been. There was a pink hue. At first I thought it was the other thing, but I soon came to realise it wasn’t.
Over the next few days it got worse. Then it went away. I breathed a sigh of relief, ‘just a UTI’ I thought. I didn’t think much of it again after that.
Until a month later, it came back. ‘Just a UTI’ I thought. A vegetarian and closet hippy who tried to eat organic as much as possible and grew vegetables for fun, I promptly went out and bought some rose-hip tea. I was sure I could fix this without modern medicine thank-you-very-much.
The blood stuck around for a few more days, then it went away. ‘Success!’ I thought. I’ve got this, no need to go anywhere to have anyone poke and prod me and prescribe me some pill I don’t need.
Unfortunately, I’m ashamed to say I let my mistrust for the healthcare industry cloud my judgement and this scenario played out for many more months before I sought medical help. I had what felt like a severe UTI for perhaps four or five months before I finally went to see my doctor in 2015. This was after I had tried every natural remedy for bladder infections known to man, and some I may have made up. Convinced I simply had a UTI, I had her test me for that alone and begrudgingly went home with a round of antibiotics.
I took the antibiotics and of course, they didn’t work. But instead of alerting me to a much, much bigger problem, it further cemented my belief that the healthcare industry couldn’t help me. They were simply out to take my money, nothing more. I went back to my natural remedies to try and beat this persistent ‘bladder infection.’
This went on for at least another 3 months when I discovered what I thought was going to be the holy grail of natural remedies for UTIs; D-Mannose. I read page after page of testimonials. Everything pointed to this finally being the cure. I rushed out to the nearest health food store and got myself a bottle of this powdered cranberry sugar. I knew I was going to beat it this time. On a side note, I recently gave what I had left to my mother when she had a bad UTI and it cleared her up in one dose. I do think D-Mannose is the bees knees for UTIs. It simply didn’t stand a chance against what was actually going on down there.
The results for me were nothing like I’d hoped. In fact, my situation got a whole lot worse, and fast. I started passing clots of various sizes. One of them was so big it started blocking my urethra. I would go for a few seconds, then my flow would shut off suddenly, causing immense pain from the pressure. I couldn’t get hold of anyone to help me, so I had to drive myself to the emergency room with my two children in tow. The clot was blocking and unblocking randomly, releasing urine everywhere the whole way. It was a nightmare I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.
At the ER a doctor asked me for a urine sample. It was the colour of dark rust. I gave it to her and she stared at it in disbelief. She said, ‘uh… you need to follow up this visit with a doctor’s appointment first thing on Monday.’ I nodded that yes, I would.
I’m ashamed to say I let this madness continue for at least another two months before I went back to my doctor. In June of 2015, beaten and worn down with fighting this infection, I finally made my second appointment. She prescribed me antibiotics. I didn’t take them. She also booked me in for a CT scan because ‘I just don’t like the fact you keep having blood in your urine,’ she said.
I don’t need a bloody CT scan. Waste of my bloody time, bloody doctors, I grumbled to myself all the way home.
But, despite my misgivings, a few days later I diligently arrived at the hospital for my CT scan, annoyed at how much this was inconveniencing me. Why would they waste four of my precious hours I could be working, all because of a bladder infection? I was quietly annoyed at this unnecessary disruption to my busy schedule.
But I did what I was asked, I drank what they told me to even though I didn’t need it and I was sure it was going to cause me to grow a third arm. I waited until it filtered through to my bladder. I breathed in and stayed still as I went back and forth through the giant metal donut that sounded like the spin cycle of a washing machine in the next room. After much eye rolling and sighing behind the nice young technician’s backs, I was sent home just in time to pick up the kids with nothing productive done for the day. Annoying.
The very next day, one of the heads of urology at the hospital rang me. ‘You seem to have a polyp in your bladder,’ she said.
I’d never heard of a polyp. ‘Sounds innocuous,’ I thought.
But then she said something that really worried me. ‘I don’t want you to worry,’ she said.
For the very first time, I was suddenly worried. What on earth did she mean by that? Why wouldn’t she want me to worry, if there was nothing to worry about? ‘We’re going to have to schedule you for surgery to remove it. You’ll need to come and see me in a few days so we can talk about what’s happening with you.’ Then she ended the call.
Apparently (I found out later), they don’t like to say the ‘C’ word over the phone. While I would have preferred them to be straight with me, I can see their point.
It doesn’t take a genius to work out what I did in the seconds following the call ending. Dr. Google and I spent a tense few hours together, where I was informed that a polyp could indeed be innocuous. However, it could also be anything but.
I spent a sleepless night with my mind turning over everything I’d just learned. ‘But I’ve only just turned 41. My children are 4 and 5. I have no family history. I quit smoking years ago. I can’t possibly have cancer.’
I can’t possibly have cancer.
The next day, she rang back. ‘We’ve had a theatre cancellation, can you come in tomorrow for surgery?’
I was taken aback. I’d had no time to think or plan. I had no idea of my options. I didn’t know if I did want to go in tomorrow for surgery. I didn’t know if I should even have surgery at all. At least I thought, this chronic, burning UTI pain and relentless bleeding will stop. That’s got to be a bonus.
‘OK?’ I said.
The next day, still in shock, I was admitted for surgery to have a large, high grade tumour removed from the lining of my bladder. Most of the rest of my time in hospital was a blur of groups of visiting surgeons and nurses going about their business. I remember asking them, ‘why is this happening to me?’
‘Do you smoke?’ I was asked. ‘Not for years,’ I replied. ‘Well,’ they said, ‘we don’t really know. Just bad luck…’
My head surgeon talked about bladder removal at the hospital and again in subsequent clinics to discuss my care, which terrified me. He mentioned it every time we spoke. He warned me that bladder tumours tend to be highly aggressive and very likely to return. He explained that repeated surgeries to remove them cause scar tissue which eventually interfere with the bladder’s ability to expand and contract properly, leaving it unable to do it’s job. He inferred I should have this done before too long, to reduce the risk of the tumours metastasizing through to surrounding muscle tissue and subsequently other parts of the body.
For someone who had only found out they had cancer the day before yesterday, this was almost too much to bear. I cried a lot behind closed hospital curtains that day.
The next day I was released back out into the big wide world to face my life as someone who has the potential to develop a fatal disease. Someone who was likely to end up needing to having their bladder removed, sooner rather than later. Someone who was going to need to endure regular immunotherapy treatments with their own side effects and regular cystoscopies to ensure tumours weren’t growing back. It was a lot to take in for someone who believed they simply had a recurring bladder infection 3 days previous.
A million thoughts go through your mind. You imagine your children growing up without you. You wonder what their life will be like, will they get past this? Will they be alright, without me?
You wonder why this happened, what caused this? Was it the 20 years of smoking before I’d quit 5 years previous? Was it all the wine I regularly consumed? Other people smoke and drink and live ’till 90. Why did I get cancer, at 40?
You micro-analyse every little thing in your life you could have done to make this happen. Was it this diet? That one? I’d spent years on and off Atkins before I became vegetarian 2 years previous. Was it all the processed meats, salami, ham, smoked salmon? Was it all the artificial sweeteners and diet drinks I consumed with who-knows-what chemicals they’re loaded with? Is this karma, for all the animals I had a hand in harming during this time?
Many people believe that stress and negativity are major risk factors for disease. Two years previous to my tumours appearing, my partner lost his job and I convinced him to join me in my web design business. I had all these ideas that he could help me with to grow the business.
Unfortunately, none of them were as successful as I’d hoped. I went through a period of sustained pressure to keep the family afloat and subsequently began to burn out. I started to hate web design. One year later, he returned to work and the relief was enormous. Did this episode trigger the beginning of the growth of cancer in my body?
A million scenarios go through your head, none of which you can draw a conclusion for. They go around and around until you have to consciously stop them, otherwise they cause the very stress you are trying to avoid in the first place.
Two months later, I was admitted to hospital so they could perform another resection of the area to make sure they had burnt off as many of the cancer cells as possible. However this time wasn’t as straightforward as the last, when I was in and out in 24 hours. This time due to the fact they tried to be as thorough as they could, they went quite deep into the lining which caused excessive bleeding. I was in hospital for a few days this time with nothing much to do but look out over Hagley Park in winter and think.
I knew I had some major lifestyle changes to make. My web design business was now really stressing me out because I no longer enjoyed it. Not only is stress a major risk factor for disease, due to the nature of my business I spent most of my time sitting inside, with food on hand whenever I felt the need to snack.
‘You love dogs,’ I thought to myself, ‘why not start a dog walking business? You get to be outside in the sunshine, moving your body and spending time with cute doggies all day.’ So there in my hospital bed, the idea for VIPets (my pet care business) was born, and I never looked back.
When I got home, I started researching natural therapies to combat bladder cancer. Now I knew what I was up against I was certain I could beat this through nutrition and exercise. I went from vegetarian to vegan, something I’d wanted to do for a long time. I avoided sugar like the plague, as studies I read had proven sugar feeds cancer cells.
I started juicing, consuming litres of carrot and broccoli juice. I dramatically cut my alcohol intake. I focused on consuming a whole food, plant based diet and avoiding junk food at all costs. To be in the safe side I combined this with immunotherapy treatment at the hospital.
After a few months of receiving the all clear from my cystoscopies however, I began to grow complacent. I started to rely on the immunotherapy treatments at the hospital to fight the tumours. I grew weary of juicing every day and eventually stopped altogether.
I started to have the odd wine with dinner every now and again. When I’d take the kids out for junk food, I’d order the fries and hash browns. Eventually, I went right back to where I was before, eating junk food relatively often, eating refined carbs – bread, pasta and crackers and drinking a bottle of wine every night with dinner.
Unsurprisingly, in June 2016, the tumours grew back. This time they were blocking the entrance to my bladder. This made urination very slow, and reminded me of their presence every time I visited the bathroom.
Once more I was faced with my own mortality. Once more I was consumed with fear and guilt that I had let this happen. How could I be so stupid? I was given the chance to change my life, and I wasted it.
In August I had surgery to have two large tumours removed. Once again I was hospitalised for a few days due to excessive bleeding, with nothing to do but think. I was released a few days later after much soul searching, with a fierce determination to change my life once again.
Once more I cut out all junk food. For the first time in my adult life, I completely stopped drinking alcohol. I avoided sugar again. I started juicing again. I bought supplements and took them regularly. I started the day with alkaline water and lemon.
I was determined to stick to it this time.
However, slowly but surely, once more I began to grow complacent. I’m ashamed to say I’ve been an extremely slow learner with this disease. After three months, I began to let bad habits creep back in. Slowly but surely, fried food and alcohol, my two biggest vices, became a part of my life again.
Then, at the beginning of 2017, my 12 year relationship with the father of my two children came to an abrupt end. It was a very stressful time. I fell right off the wagon. Any healthy habits I had left were left completely on the wayside.
I drank alcohol. I even smoked on 3 or 4 occasions. I started eating dairy and eggs occasionally and even ate meat twice.
It was safe to say, I went on a bit of a bender, taking my life and health into my hands in the process. I find these things very hard to admit, especially given the situation I find myself in once again.
Unsurprisingly, in April 2017, 10 months after my last surgery, the doctor discovered two more tumours growing in my bladder during a routine cystoscopy. I’ve been scheduled for my fourth surgery to remove them. I’ll be taking one step closer to bladder removal as the scar tissue impairs its ability to expand and contract properly. I am once again in danger of these tumours metastasizing through the wall of my bladder to other parts of my body.
Once again, my body has screamed at me: ‘You cannot keep abusing your body like this and expect to get away with it! Please stop. You cannot go on like this!’
You cannot go on like this.
And yet, my body has given me another chance to mend my destructive ways. How lucky am I, to be thrown yet another lifeline. Another opportunity to change my life and get my health back on track.
How lucky am I, when there’s so many heart wrenching stories out there. People who have had parts of their precious bodies removed. Young people who have had to endure countless surgeries, immunotherapy treatments and chemo. All this before they have even had time to come to terms with adult life, let alone face a disease as terrifying and daunting as cancer.
How lucky am I, to be sent another warning, when others have lost their hair, their fertility, parts of their body and even their lives to this disease. I am definitely one of the lucky ones, to be sent yet another lifeline, when others have not had such a break.
It’s unfair and it’s selfish of me to have had so many chances to take charge of my life and health, and to have squandered them time and time again.
Well, no more. This time, I am going to reach out and take that chance with both hands.
So this is what brings me here to start this blog today. To keep me on track to beat this disease once and for all. To hold me accountable. To stop me from squandering yet another opportunity to watch my children grow up, to see my grandchildren born, and to be there for them growing up too.
To give back by sharing what I learn on my journey back to full health.
I’m so happy you decided to join me. Feel free to reach out on social media, the comments section or subscribe to this blog for updates.
Looking forward to hearing from you. Take care and talk soon!