Another Medical Journey Begins

July 29, 2014

Many of you know that I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1999. I had surgery and treatment and reconstruction. It was a multi-year journey that included almost a dozen surgeries, and months of chemotherapy and radiation. Sometimes it was tough, but now it is 15 years later. All that stuff is in my past. I don’t mind talking about it, but breast cancer is not part of my everyday life and it has lost most of its emotional impact. Yay! 

Today, July 29, I received a diagnosis of squamous cell bladder cancer. It is not unexpected, as I have had a number of tests in the past 3 weeks. (I’ll tell the full story below, for those that want the details.) I will have surgery to remove the tumor on August 4th. I’ll be in the hospital for less than a week, if all goes well. I will need a few more weeks to recover before I can go back to work. After that, I might also have chemotherapy, but we still don’t have the final pathology on the tumor. So I might not need chemo at all.

You might think that this is terrible news, but Steve and I were actually relieved when we left the doctor’s office this afternoon. We were afraid that this was a recurrence of the breast cancer or ovarian cancer – which could be a much worse diagnosis. Some other types of bladder cancer are worse as well – and I would have to have my entire bladder removed, with obvious ongoing life consequences. I thought that I could even hear that my cancer was terminal.

Although this will still be a “medical journey,” I believe it will be much less than the breast cancer saga. Well before the end of the year, I expect to be back on my bike and back on the dance floor. Look for me there!

The Details

During the second week of July, I was in Canada teaching a class and got a bladder infection. I’ve had these off and on for my whole life and so I knew what to do – I went to a Canadian doctor who gave me a prescription for antibiotics. [BTW, chronic cystitis is a risk factor for bladder cancer.]

But when I got home, the infection didn’t seem to be getting better. So I made an appointment with my urologist. I have a urologist because I have chronic cystitis – Kaiser doesn’t make me go through any hoops to get to him if I feel the need. He said he wanted a culture of my urine for a more thorough analysis. He also wanted me to go to Radiology for an ultrasound of my kidneys and bladder. He felt that I was at risk for kidney stones or some other complication. My urologist is great.

So 6 days later, I went to Radiology. They found a mass in my bladder – of course, they don’t tell you that on the spot. But that same night, my urologist called and asked if I could come to his office tomorrow for a cystoscopy, so we could look at this mass. Did I say my urologist is great? He is.

So of course I went – that’s not the kind of call that you ignore. And my co-workers and bosses at Splunk were completely supportive – taking over for me on a moment’s notice.

There was a tumor in my bladder, but it looked pretty small. So we planned a minor surgery on July 22 to remove it and do some pathology, etc. But in the process of preparing for surgery, I got a bunch of tests, including a CT scan of my abdomen. The CT scan showed that minor surgery was not going to be enough. I have been waiting, in some fear, of the results of the biopsy.

And now we are here. No, it’s not good news. But when you know the news is going to be bad, you also get a perspective on just how bad things could be. This is really the best news I could have gotten today.

This is do-able and I am ready to work through it. I don’t plan to post every step of the way – I don’t think that the world needs (or wants) that much information about my life!