And Another Thing: Bladder Cancer

Ron DeLacy
By Ron DeLacy March 15, 2009 17:28

Hello and welcome, Friends and Neighbors, to another episode of Adventures in Aging. Sit back, prop up your feet, put on a little mood music and enjoy your favorite beverage as we journey into the intriguing world of bladder cancer, a condition that came my way late last summer, blessing me with not only fodder for another essay but also a convenient and credible excuse for my foul moods.

Statistically, the bladder variety ranks as America’s sixth most popular cancer, enlisting about 68,000 new subscribers annually. It wears the Triple Crown of Contemptible Bias as sexist, racist and ageist, favoring men over women and white people over African Americans and Hispanics, and the older the better.

But anybody can get it, and, as with most health challenges, early detection is pretty important. So it was fortunate that last summer I subjected myself to one last physical exam, just in case something showed up to argue against my idea of going without health insurance until Medicare kicks in this year.

That would not have been a good idea. My labs showed microscopic blood in the urine, which meant there could be some serious expenses not far down the road.

But at least I would be in good hands. I was referred to C. Richard Dewar, a renowned and respected Modesto urologist and a friend for nearly 30 years – a fellow kind and forgiving enough to tolerate my insistence on calling him Doctor Dick the Dick Doc.

More tests at his office turned up cancer cells in the urine. On the exact day after my group insurance expired, I was diagnosed with bladder cancer.

By then I had applied for my own health plan, but of course the insurer got to look at my medical records, which is only fair, and of course the insurer declined my business – for the same reason that you can’t get homeowners’ insurance if the company knows you’ve spilled propane all over the floor and hoodlums are outside with bows, shooting torches through your kitchen window.

Thanks to a federal law, though, my former continuous coverage entitled me to an alternative health policy, one that charged an exorbitant premium, carried a ludicrously high deductible ceiling, and was way worth it.

And I was in for a series of probes and biopsies and procedures that epitomize the insanity of basing the word “treatment” on the word “treat.” For about four months, doctors or nurses did everything they did through a tube that passed into my bladder through the urethra. Look it up and squirm.

I got a month off to heal from the biopsy, and then began a six-week program of a nurse infusing me once a week, through the whatchamacallit, with a small dose of tuberculosis.

Yes, tuberculosis. And yes, I would rather be water-boarded too. When this plan was first proposed, naturally my reaction was to inquire of the good Doctor Dick, “I have cancer, and now you want to give me WHAT? You want to give it to me HOW?”

The procedure is called BCG, which stands for something you can’t pronounce and don’t have to. It’s all over Internet medical web sites simply as BCG, so you can search for it that way if you want something more detailed and probably more accurate than you’ll be getting here. But I can tell you BCG has been used this way for a couple of decades, that it is the common and accepted form of treatment for bladder cancer that hasn’t yet busted out of the holding tank to frolic in other organs, and that about 70 percent of the time works.

The general idea is that when tuberculosis gets into the bladder, the immune system rallies to the area and tries to kick it out along with any other foreign invaders, such as cancer.

And so I took the medicine, driving weekly to Modesto for those infusions, supported by my friend Clare Bazley, who runs the Columbia Kate’s tea house just east of the state park. She ditched her business to ride with me on every trip to Modesto, and took the wheel for the final half-hour while my prescribed hypnotic, sedative, muscle relaxant, anticonvulsant medication rendered me stupid enough to allow a nurse to BCG me.

That didn’t make it pleasant. But as disgusting as the procedure was, both Clare and the nurse were understanding, compassionate and helpful, one prompting me to open my eyes during the procedure (so I could focus on something external) and the other reminding me to breathe.

On Christmas Eve, six weeks after the final treatment, the doctor took another look. The bladder was clear.

And I’m still here to tell you not to forget that physical exam.

Retired Modesto Bee journalist Ron DeLacy, 64, is a musician and founding partner in DoodooWah, a politically incorrect folk duet. He lives in Columbia. Email him at doodoo@doodoowah.com.

© 2009, Friends and Neighbors Magazine

Ron DeLacy
By Ron DeLacy March 15, 2009 17:28
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