Despite the physical and mental trauma of having cancer, I feel that my experience has been positive. I’ve learned so much about myself, and I’m now a more open person, as well as a better husband, father, and friend.
I think one of the most frightening—and embarrassing—things that can happen to an adult is losing control of your bladder and wetting the bed. When that happened to me in the spring of 2012 while I was on a camping trip with my wife Kimberly and our two teenage daughters, I knew something was very wrong and immediately sought medical attention. In my mid-50s at the time, I had been diagnosed with an enlarged prostate and I was having some difficulty urinating, but losing control like that was alarming.
Surprising Biopsy Result
A CT scan showed that I had a 7-cm tumor on my bladder situated in front of my left kidney. A cystoscopy later confirmed that the tumor was malignant. Because the tumor was so large, it was surprising when the initial biopsy report showed that the cancer was stage I. When subsequent biopsies confirmed the staging, I was faced with a difficult choice. My surgeon was convinced that the position and size of the tumor were good indicators that the cancer had, in fact, spread, and he wanted to treat me for invasive bladder cancer rather than early-stage cancer.
After a second opinion confirmed my surgeon’s recommendation, I had to think long and hard about what to do. Because I was still so young, I wanted to do everything in my power to save my bladder and not have my anatomy altered. But I also wanted to live and see my daughters grow into adulthood, so I reluctantly agreed to a radical cystectomy in which my kidney, bladder, and prostate were removed and a valve created in a pouch made from a piece of my intestine—a continent diversion—to store my urine.
Putting Life First
The pathology report showed that I had made the right decision. The bladder cancer had metastasized to my prostate and I was restaged to stage IV disease and prescribed a 3-month adjuvant regimen of cisplatin and gemcitabine. Although there certainly are physical and emotional ramifications of having such radical surgery, I knew all along that I really wanted to live, and I’m thrilled to say that today I am in remission.
The cancer experience has been transformative for me. As a former Marine, I was used to being in control and independent and keeping my feelings to myself. When I was diagnosed with cancer, I worried about being a burden on my family and friends, but I found that their love and support gave me the courage to go through treatment and face my fear of having cancer.
To show my appreciation for all the support I received from family, friends, and a wonderful medical team—including my oncologist, who was forthright and consoling throughout my diagnosis and treatment—I’ve dedicated myself to giving back to the cancer community. I speak before groups of cancer survivors and share with them five lessons I’ve learned after having cancer. They include the importance of confronting your fears, accepting emotional support, building a strong medical team, setting priorities, and being comfortable with your decisions.
Despite the physical and mental trauma of having cancer, I feel that my experience has been positive. I’ve learned so much about myself, and I’m now a more open person, as well as a better husband, father, and friend. I appreciate every day and don’t fear the future—and that’s perhaps the greatest lesson of all. ■
Fred Wright lives in Leesburg, Virginia.