I have a personal story about cancer and I’m sharing it now six years after my first symptoms appeared in the hope of helping others to battle — and beat — this terrible disease.
Today I am a two-time cancer survivor. And, let me tell you, life is good. I treasure every day — especially my time with family and my public service to Fresno residents.
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Thanks to Dr. Eila Skinner at Stanford Health Care in Palo Alto, I am getting more years with my wife, Susan, my children, and a blessed opportunity to watch my grandson grow up.
If you remember nothing else about this article, I hope you’ll remember this:
Never give up, never stop fighting, feel the love and support of others. And, if you are a person of faith like me, lean on God. In my darkest moments was when I felt closest to God.
Depression, Fear, and Doubt Are Part of the Fight
I’m not going to sugarcoat the challenges. Cancer sucks. When you get the diagnosis, it’s terrifying. Not knowing what’s going to happen next, much less if you’re going to live or die, gnaws at you. Even though I’m normally a happy guy, there were times when I was really depressed.
And, despite the support of family and friends, taking on cancer is a lonely fight. You’re the one that has it. It’s you with your thoughts and fears, and the prospect of losing the battle.
You also are a click away from the internet, which is helpful in researching cancer, doctors, and treatments. Unfortunately, it’s also a reservoir of terrifying worst-case scenarios. You read other people’s stories and many of them are tragic. This can make you more anxious and depressed.
My Delayed Diagnosis
In my case, six years ago, I could feel that something was wrong when urinating, and I went to the doctor to find out what was going on.
Initially, for eight months the urologist misdiagnosed my problem as an inflammation/infection. When the problem didn’t go away, I sought another urologist who did a biopsy which revealed I had bladder cancer. The question became, “How do we treat it?” After the initial treatments failed, I talked to specialists in and out of Fresno before finding my way to Dr. Skinner. I’m glad I did.
Dr. Skinner and other specialists recommended the removal of my bladder rather than risk a spreading of the cancer. After much prayer, I concurred.
One of the questions facing me going into the eight-hour surgery was whether I would wake up with a bag.
When I woke up, I was mentally out of it. I asked the nurse numerous times, “Do I have a bag?” She said no. Then I reached down and didn’t feel anything. That was a relief. But, if I had woken up with a bag, my life would go on. I would still be alive.
Thankfully, the cancer hadn’t spread from my bladder. So, incredibly, they made a new bladder out of my intestine and I function as I did before. You can barely see a scar.
The Cancer Returns
Following the successful surgery five years ago, I had MRIs and other tests. All revealed no cancer. Each time I get tested, however, the fear and anxiety about potentially receiving bad news arises. I’m not sure this will ever change.
About 18 months ago, I again had the sense something wasn’t right. They checked and found cancer cells in my urological tract. I had once-a-week treatments for six weeks and this time the treatments worked! The cancer was eradicated.
When I got the news, I cried. For the past 18 months, I’ve had numerous MR’s and tests, and all have confirmed no cancer. What an incredible relief. I’m a very blessed man.
Have Doubts, Seek a Second Opinion
So, how did I survive my bladder cancer?
It starts with getting regular medical check-ups and early detection. I know that many men avoid the doctor. Some think they are Superman and don’t need to go. Others are uncomfortable talking about private matters. Or they worry that something might be seriously wrong.
If something is wrong, the sooner you treat it, the better for you and all those who love you. Denial delays the truth; it doesn’t prevent it or cure it. Denial and cancer are a deadly combination.
That brings me to a very important point: If you have even a sliver of doubt about your diagnosis or treatment, get a second or third opinion.
Don’t Ever Stop Fighting
I’ll tell you what breaks my heart. It’s seeing young children facing cancer. It just hits you in the gut and drives home the point that not everyone has the blessing of a long life. But every kid I’ve seen with cancer is a fighter. They give everything they’ve got.
If you get this horrendous diagnosis, do what these kids do and I did. Fight hard. Also, learn all you can about your diagnosis. Seek the support of your family and friends. Most importantly, lean on and trust God.
About the Author
Garry Bredefeld represents District 6 encompassing northeast neighborhoods on the Fresno City Council.