One year ago my guy was diagnosed with bladder cancer.
On this Thanksgiving day, I am sharing our story to remind us all to be mindful of our blessings and I am sharing our story, so that those who are struggling with cancer may know they are not alone.
I am a hematology oncology nurse and a wellness expert. I work with cancer patients everyday, and even I didn’t get an
‘out of jail free’ card. I did not get an exemption from cancer. Last year it hit close to home and here is my story.
One year ago today my guy was diagnosed with bladder cancer. I was not surprised. Scared, yes, but surprised no. You see Doug is a former commercial fisherman who, like most fishermen, smoked the majority of his life. He was a pack a day smoker for 45 years - what the doctors call an “extensive history.” After retiring from fishing Doug ran his own business restoring old cars, and although he didn’t realize it at the time, he surrounded himself with chemicals that are now known to be carcinogens. Today Doug works as a fabricator, welding, painting, and doing anything needed with his hands. Doug has great hands. They are tender when it comes to the ones he loves, yet tough and rugged when things need to be built, and Doug can build anything. The combination of smoking and being in a toxic environment for years on end caught up to Doug on November 22, 2016 when he was diagnosed with bladder cancer.
I wish I could say I was the most loving and supportive partner during this time but truthfully I was not. Of course I helped Doug with diet, nutrition, supplements, and other lifestyle modifications, and perhaps I am being too hard on myself, but in reality I was scared. I was hurt, angry and to be quite frank I felt betrayed. Doug and I had many previous conversations about smoking and everyone who loved him asked him to quit. But anyone who understands addiction knows the quitting has to come from them. It won’t last otherwise. So my anger became heated and mean spirited - a childish “I told you so” and it took many days and weeks of prayer, tears, and more prayer for me to come to a place of peace. To help Doug solely out of love and because I only want the best for this man that I love so dearly.
Overnight Doug went from a pack of cigarettes a day, meat and dairy eating, Coke drinking, sugar and caffeine addict, to a no smoking, no coffee, no dairy, no meat, no sugar, plant based kind of guy. It still amazes me how he did this so quickly. I didn’t ask Doug to make all of these changes at once but I’m thinking this is what a cancer diagnosis will do. Doug had to make a choice - family, friends, and loved ones, versus terrible quality of life and potential death. As many of you saw on my Instagram and Facebook feed, we dived straight into “fuck cancer” mode. Juicing, smoothies, veggies, greens, supplements and more. I helped Doug detox and reduce the inflammation in his body, and we optimized his immune system so that his own body would work against the cancer and slow down its progression. I knew so much - too much. I wanted to teach Doug everything I knew in one day, yet I had to be careful. I also didn’t want to overwhelm him and make him feel like this whole lifestyle change was impossible. I prayed everyday for guidance and I prayed that Doug would remain open and receptive to everything I was teaching him. Silently however, in the back of my mind, I felt a tremendous pressure to cure Doug. I would tell friends and family that I felt enormous pressure to save his life.
Last December Doug had surgery to remove the tumor in his bladder. We waited a long two weeks for the staging results and eventually we were happy to hear Doug’s cancer was superficial. It had not progressed into the muscle of the bladder wall. Thankfully, we caught it early. After much discussion with Doug’s doctor, we chose not to have chemotherapy at the time of surgery. The typical standard of care is to bathe the bladder wall in chemotherapy, after removing a bladder tumor, but since we did not know the stage of Doug’s cancer, as well as this ‘standard of care’ in my research had not shown to be very effective, we chose to wait until we knew what we were dealing with - until we knew the staging of the cancerous tumor. Because the results showed Doug’s cancer to be superficial, no chemotherapy or further interventions were necessary at the time. Doug continued the course with excellent nutrition, optimizing his immune system, and no smoking.
Since his surgery Doug has had a cystoscopy every 90 days to make sure the bladder cancer had not returned. It has not and the improvement in Doug’s health, even within the first couple of months, has been dramatic. Overall Doug lost 20 pounds and no longer feels pain in his joints. This is due to the anti-inflammatory diet he is eating. After years of having high blood pressure and cholesterol, both of these are within normal range. Doug had high cholesterol for as long as I’ve known him. High as in 300s, and he chalked it up to genetics. Doctors put him on statin medications several times throughout the years without success. In the back of my mind I knew of course how to fix the problem but again, one has to be ready to make the sometimes drastic lifestyle changes in order for there to be improvement. I was happy all of these secondary issues were resolving on their own.
Not smoking is still the hardest part of this journey, Doug has told me, and I imagine it will remain so for a long time. As the doctors said, 45 years is an extensive history. But I couldn’t be more proud of this guy who stands by my side. Doug continues to learn about nutrition and what works for his body. He is starting to really listen to his body rather than just do what I say - a true sign of learning. Plus, Doug is an amazing cook, so now he is able to make healthier versions of old standbys.
Together, one year later, we are continuing to find our way. It is not always easy. I still sometimes feel pressure to cure Doug - to save his life. We both are aware these tumors tend to come back often, but we are realistically optimistic. Doug changing his whole lifestyle opened up a can of worms for both of us initially, with all of our fears and weaknesses coming to a head. But slowly we are bonding together, stronger, in a way that we never would have before. Doug and I don’t take anything for granted and we treasure each others company always. I am all too aware that cancer sometimes pulls couples apart rather than bond together, and I am thankful for the latter, grateful for our health and the health of our family. We know we cannot control the future but we have faith that what is to come will be perfect in its own way. Live day to day, keep fear and anxiety at bay, love one another, and share with others all that we have learned.
One year. One amazing, insightful, crazy, beautiful year. Until next time...
Happy Thanksgiving xx
(If you are interested in learning more about cancer and chronic disease management and would like to work together, please feel free to contact me.)