Bladder Cancer | John's Story
Life After Bladder Cancer Surgery
What are the physical and emotional challenges faced by patients after bladder cancer surgery? Learn more about the unique issues facing patients and how to cope.
By Katherine Lee
Medically Reviewed by Cynthia Haines, MD
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As devastating as any cancer diagnosis is, some bladder cancer patients face the additional physical and emotional challenges of surgery that changes the way their body performs one of its most basic functions.
Bladder Cancer: Effects of Surgery
Generally speaking, bladder cancer that is caught very early will result in fewer treatment side effects, says Cheryl T. Lee, MD, director of the Bladder Cancer Program at University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center in Ann Arbor. "The side effects, such as urinary urgency or frequency or nocturnal enuresis [nighttime bedwetting], are usually temporary."
Other physical side effects can include:
- Lack of appetite and energy
- Inability to exercise and impaired mobility.
For later-stage patients who have to have bladder surgery and follow-up treatments such as chemotherapy, the after-effects can be more serious and ongoing. "Physical and emotional problems can overlap," says Dr. Lee. "Often, there is a sense of helplessness and depression, as well as fear that the cancer will return."
It's not unusual for emotions to run the gamut from worry over managing a urinary diversion to insecurity about body image, anxiety, and depression. You may stop wanting social contact and withdraw. More consequences of bladder cancer surgery that will affect your outlook include:
- Loss of independence.Many patients are no longer able to take care of themselves after bladder cancer treatment. "It can be a huge factor for people who were in their 60s or 70s and living on their own, and now may have to rely on family members or live with assistance," says Lee.
- Loss of ability to work.This can be a big problem, especially if you had to use a significant portion of your savings to pay for treatment.
Bladder Cancer: Physical and Emotional Recovery
One of the most important steps to take as you start your journey toward recovery from bladder cancer surgery is to accept that things have changed and make the decision to start anew. "You're basically reconstructing your life," says Lee. Here's how to get started moving in a positive direction:
- Resume or begin an exercise plan under your doctor's guidance. Although you might think you feel too fatigued to work out, exercise actually gives you more energy.
- Make sure you are eating a healthy diet, low in fat and full of whole grains and fruits and vegetables. "A heart-smart diet is a good anti-cancer diet," says Lee. "General well-being will be crucial to recovery."
- Turn to friends, family, and therapists for support as you navigate the hurdles of treatment after-effects. A good source for help, says Lee, is a support group, such as the Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network (www.bcan.org), a national advocacy group dedicated to improving public awareness of bladder cancer and encouraging research toward diagnosis and treatment of the disease.
- If you're suffering from depression, anxiety, or any other mental health conditions, you may be a candidate for medication such as antidepressants, or for psychotherapy.
Talk to your entire healthcare team about any and all issues you're facing. Together, you can build a plan that is right for you. It will take many small steps to rebuild your life after bladder cancer surgery, but eventually, things that seemed daunting at first will become easier to you and create a sense of accomplishment.
Video: Bladder Cancer | Q&A
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