By Jess Baria
Read time: 4 minutes
On March 17, 2021, my doctor called with the results of my annual blood test. There were microscopic traces of blood in my urine, he said. “We must rule out bladder cancer. You have a cystoscopy scheduled in 40 days.”
I’m no stranger to chronic health conditions. Even so, the news was disturbing. At 21, I was diagnosed with keratoconus, a degenerative disease of the corneas that mostly affects younger people. In my early 30s, they said I had mild hearing loss. The same year, they found my kidney function to be below normal. (Kidney disease and hearing loss can go hand in hand. Go figure.)
A whirlwind of fear and despair
The next morning, I couldn’t keep dark thoughts at bay. Cancer was the last thing my family and I needed. I am relatively young. Having moved to Canada in 2017, I had my hands full with my uphill battle finding a job. I felt I had miles to go before I could enjoy a decent standard of living and become a productive citizen.
I broke down. What burdens would I bring to my partner? What would I tell my mother? How do I keep sane for the next 40 days?
From my experience with keratoconus, I knew reading random stuff on the net wouldn’t help. But reaching out to people in a similar situation would.
When I googled “bladder cancer support in Canada,” the top result was Bladder Cancer Canada (BCC). And they had a support forum, too! In the next 15 minutes, I signed up and floated a post there. I stated the facts, expressed my fears. And then the support came.
From worry to laughter
Each reply from members on the forum served to roll back the tide of anxiety. All were battling bladder cancer – many for years – so their words had power.
One poster reminded me there were many conditions that could cause hematuria. So why assume the worst?
“Avoid the internet and keep busy!” was another piece of sage advice.
One mighty post ordered the worry demon back into the abyss. Using statistics, the member reasoned why there was a 99% chance that my hematuria wasn’t due to cancer.
I even attended a BCC peer-support meeting on Zoom. I was a new face there among the eight, and I got a ton of encouragement.
On that call, as in the posts, I appreciated their ability to inject positivity and humour into all they said. How was it that they were able to remain upbeat and helpful? The thought gave me respect for them and courage for myself.
Day 40: The Cystoscopy
Through much of my 40-day wait, I remained calm and productive. I was even able to radiate some of that optimism on the morning of my cystoscopy.
With me was a patient, perhaps in her late 50s. “I have a terrible feeling it’s going to be cancer!” she told me. I said there are many other reasons for hematuria, passing along to her the same advice I had received from my new friends at BCC. “There’s a great chance you’ll be walking out with good news today!” It felt great helping her in this way.
I wish I could tell you how that lady fared, but I did not see her afterwards. My own test showed I had no abnormalities in the bladder.
Immediately, I texted my anxious family members and friends. Once I reached home, I posted the good news on the BCC forum.
Paying it forward
Long before my test, I had decided I’d give back to BCC no matter my diagnosis. Following my cystoscopy, I got in touch with the BCC office and offered to volunteer in my own little way.
I know I’ve been lucky this time around. I’m aware there are other health challenges down the road. My kidney function is comparable to a 70-year-old’s. I don’t know what my upcoming meeting with the nephrologist will reveal.
What I do know is that we, as Canadians, are blessed to have a healthcare system that’s among the world’s best. And for guidance and support, we have organizations like BCC where we can find compassionate people who are living examples of hope and courage. Their stories are critical to our own mental health and that of our caregivers.
Thanks, BCC, and all you brave, wonderful people! You’re awesome!
Jess Baria immigrated from Dubai to Toronto in 2017 to follow his childhood dream of living in Canada. He’s a communications professional who loves writing for websites and businesses. He’s a nature lover and painting landscapes is his favourite hobby.
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Disclaimer: The Bladder Cancer Canada blog is not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment. The content on this blog shares the personal views of the writer and is for information only. Always consult your physician and do not rely on the information on this page when making decisions about your health.