Episode 8 - Sue Babbitt - Denver, Colorado - USA - Survivor -Stage 2 Bladder Cancer
Bruce Morton: Hello, and welcome to the Cancer Interviews podcast, and on this segment we will hear from Sue Babbitt of Denver, Colorado and how she overcame bladder cancer. Now we want to remind you that on Cancer Interviews, we do not dispense medical advice. If you seek medical advice, please contact a licensed health care professional. So now let’s get started, and Sue, welcome to Cancer Interviews.
Sue Babbitt: Thank you, Bruce.
BM: The first thing we want to do, standard operating procedure, for any of our interviews, we’d like to get know you better, so, Sue, if you would, tell us where you from, your life’s work and what you like to do with your leisure time.
SB: I was born in Kearney, Nebraska, and was raised in Amherst, a small Nebraska town. I was one of six children, I was the oldest daughter. I have lived several places, I have lived in Nebraska, Kansas, Alabama and now Denver, Colorado. I am 70 years old, and I am retired.
BM: I would think coming from small town Nebraska to Denver was an adjustment. Was it difficult for you?
SB: Well, I’d lived several places in between those two. So Denver, Colorado is the place I wish I’d always lived, actually. I love Denver.
BM: And when did you arrive in Denver? What year?
SB: I moved here in 2008, a move precipitated by the birth of my first grandson. He was born of November 25, 2007. When he was born, he was born with a heart condition, which meant that he had four things wrong with his heart. He had two of those things fixed in May of 2008, but my daughter found out just prior to having to go back to work that Reese could not go back to daycare, it was all arranged, but he could not go back to daycare because of his heart condition and the fragility of being exposed to the germs from other kids, so I moved here to take care of him out of necessity, and I have been here ever since.
BM: And how difficult was the caregiver role for you? What was the most difficult part?
SB: I guess the biggest challenge was carrying around the oxygen. He was on oxygen from the time he was born until his heart surgery. During that time, my daughter had to go back to her school teaching job, and so we had him five days a week. We did everything that anybody else would do. My family is very active, so Reese and I would go all over, but it meant carrying a small infant child in a carrier, and so we had home oxygen, then I would carry around a small oxygen tank with me with him when we went anywhere, so that was probably the most challenging part, the oxygen.
BM: Let’s talk about your life prior to being diagnosed. At that time were there any warning signs, anything that tipped you off that something wasn’t normal, something might be wrong?
SB: The reason I started going to the doctor was because I started having blood when I would go to the restroom, and it wasn’t in my urine, per se, but I would bleed on to the tissue I would use after going to the bathroom, and in 2012, I was well past menopause. It was different than a woman’s menstrual cycle. It wasn’t like that. I didn’t bleed between trips to the bathroom, but it was there when I used the bathroom. So I started going to the doctor for that, and they treated me as if I had some sort of infection. They generally start with the easiest, the least frightening, the simplest approach. I did a dose of some sort of antibiotic. It obviously didn’t work, so I went back to the doctor. They tried another type of medication, and that didn’t work. So at that point, the general practitioner decided they needed to know why I was bleeding, and she ordered a CT scan, and that is where they found the mass in my bladder, so that was what was causing the bleeding.
BM: Was there much pain involved?
SB: None. The only symptom I had was the blood. The only symptom. Ever.
BM: So after that CT scan, were you referred to a specialist?
SB: I was referred to a urologist at the Denver Health hospital system, and I was referred to the urology department there. Doctor Kim was the director of that department, so I went to see him. They did a probe and found the mass, and then scheduled a removal of that mass.
BM: Did they give you a general anesthetic?
SB: Yes, they did. They went in and removed the mass, and then I could go home. I didn’t even have to spend the night at Denver Health. When I came out of the anesthetic, they said the mass looked like it was cancerous but benign. They sent it to a lab, and I think it was about a week later that I got a phone call from one of the urologists at Denver Health and informed me that the pathology was not good, that there was an aggressive form of cancer. They also told me at the time that they thought the cancer was contained within the walls of the bladder, that it had not spread, and so after that, they set up another appointment to come in and talk to the urologist about our treatment options.
BM: And what were those options?
SB: The first option they gave me was chemo, four cycles of chemo. And then they would run tests to see where we were, where the cancer was. The second option, and this is the one they recommended, was the same chemo treatment, the same four rounds and then I would have my bladder removed, and go from there.
BM: This was a successful procedure, yes?
SB: Yes, it was successful. Denver Health was fantastic.
BM: Now with a removed bladder, how does change your life?
SB: I had my bladder removed on October 10, 2017. I then had to wear a bag to collect the urine that the bag collects. During the surgery, they use part of the bowel to make an ostomy, that’s what it is, an ostomy bag. So on the side of my stomach, there is an ostomy that comes through my stomach, and the urine comes out of that into a bag I wear on the side of my stomach. It’s a bit of a pain, but it hasn’t changed my lifestyle. The first thing I asked the urologist was how is this going to change my life? Am I still going to be able to participate in my grandsons’ lives? I play basketball with them, I swim with them, they are my life. I see them three or four times a week. I see them after school, we go on vacation together. If I don’t tell you I have an ostomy, you don’t know. It has changed the way I dress because the bag is right at the waistline, so I have to wear high-waisted things. I cannot wear jeans because when I sit, they tighten around the waist, well, that is where my ostomy bag connects to me. So I don’t wear jeans anymore. All the pants that I wear are pull-on, and I wear longer tops to cover that because as the bag fills, I will get a lump on that side, but if I wear the right clothes you don’t even notice it. The bag definitely has its advantages. I no longer get in the middle of the night to use the restroom, so I sleep all night. I can go on vacation and go without using the restroom for like four hours, so that’s an advantage. There’s the occasional leak, which is inconvenient and embarrassing and all those things, but they happen rarely, and I have a great life, I would not have changed anything. It’s been fine.
BM: Two-part question. Earlier on we had talked about when you were in a caregiving role with your grandson. Now let’s go back to the chemo phase. Did you have a caregiver or caregivers?
SB: I did have caregivers. First of all, my husband. He was with me, and he was here at the house when I would come home. I was in the hospital only eight days after the major surgery, the seven-hour surgery. The people, the doctors, the nurses at Denver Health were fantastic. And there was another person that was by my side 24/7, she didn’t miss a chemo treatment, was my daughter, the mother of my grandsons. Carla and I have always been really, really close, and she was with me. She was there for every chemo treatment, she was with me when I had my surgery, she spent the night with me. She was fantastic. My husband refers to her as “his angel”, because it was more comfortable for my daughter to see some of the things. Bladder cancer is kind of personal, you know. I wasn’t sure I wanted my husband to see all that. I would take showers as part of my care and she would stand in the doorway and watch and I would be comfortable with all that. I wasn’t always comfortable with my husband and seeing all that. I am 70 years old, so I am a little shy about some of that stuff, and maybe younger women aren’t, I don’t know, but I was a little hesitant in having my husband see me like that. So Carla was there every single minute.
BM: Now you mentioned caregiving from sort of a medicinal, procedure sort of perspective, but how about the emotional piece? How were your husband and your daughter as far as that goes?
SB: They were fantastic. My daughter was with me every time I was in the hospital, every time I had chemo, all of that. But between that of course, my husband was with me because I was at home. The chemo cycles that I had were once a week for three weeks, then a week off, for four times. If you have ever had chemo, you know that it builds upon itself. So the first treatment was not horrible. The second treatment was a little bit worse. By the time I got to the third, the first week, and then the fourth, the first week, was debilitating, so I would go and have my cancer treatment and then I would come home and I would be in bed until the next week when go to have another treatment. In my case, the first week of every cycle, I would get two different drugs, and then the second week of that cycle, I just got one of those drugs, so that first week was really not fun. I never had issues with nausea because the drugs they have nowadays are quite good. They always gave me a nausea medication before they started the chemo. I would get 15 minutes of that, then they would shoot in the bad stuff, the “poison” as my husband referred to it. So that first week was rough, but after that it was fine. I even went on vacation the week between my second and third cycle. The week that I was off chemo, we do a family vacation every year and we went to Costa Rica that year, so we went to Costa Rica and had a great time. I am glad I did that because the third and fourth cycles were not a lot of fun.
BM: As far as chemo goes, depending upon the patient, and their circumstances, it is varying degrees of unpleasant, but can you understand why you were treated with chemo? Because it was a necessary evil to kill the cancer?
SB: Oh, absolutely. It did its job. It was highly successful. Of course, they didn’t know that until they got in there and after the surgery. So, after the chemo did its thing, then six weeks later, I had my bladder removal surgery. Chemo was nasty, but in my case, it was necessary.
BM: The second part of my two-part caregiving question pertains to the bag, and the managing of it. What the toughest part of the management of the bag?
SB: It’s really just not a big deal. It’s frustrating if you have leaks, and my leaks seemed to go in cycles. I would have a week with three leaks, then I won’t have a leak for six weeks. It’s not nearly as big a deal as I thought it was going to be. Cancer treatment has come a long, long way. I am just grateful my cancer was diagnosed in 2017 and not even ten years earlier than that. It just keeps getting better. They know so much more now, it’s just fantastic. And the secret is also quick, fast, early detection. My cancer was only Stage Two. Past Stage Two is when it spreads throughout your body. I didn’t have it in any lymph nodes, nothing. Once they removed the bladder, I have been cancer free since 2017.
BM: That’s fantastic news, Sue, and right now, there is somebody watching who has just been diagnosed with bladder cancer, and I have got to believe your story is one of inspiration and encouragement because throughout the cancer journey, you had trust in your doctors, a good caregiving team, and it sounds like from start to finish, you had confidence that you were going to have a good outcome.
SB: That is part of my personality, also. I am extremely stubborn and I knew from the beginning that this was not going to take me. I am tougher than cancer.
BM: Indeed, and your experience is proof positive of that.
SB: I really am the first person in my family to have cancer. I have had a good attitude about it, according to other people.
BM: And that’s so important, isn’t it?
SB: I do believe that. You can’t let it get you down. Everybody’s life has ups and downs, and cancer is one of those downs, but you will be up again. I have been up since January of 2018. You know, 2017 was not my year, that’s what I tell everybody. But since then, everything’s great. I do whatever I want. It’s fantastic.
BM: You’d already mentioned going to Costa Rica, but upon beating cancer, is there anything you did to celebrate this accomplishment?
SB: No, not really. That was a major surgery, and then I had some issues after surgery. I had a UTI that put me back in the hospital for three days and in December 2017 I got really, really sick and this time they had difficult telling from where the infection came from. I was septic. That almost got me, but it didn’t. I was in the hospital for 13 days, but since then, I have not been in the hospital, I have not been sick. I am quite healthy. I didn’t change my diet. I don’t take particularly good care of myself. I am not on any strict diet. Everything in moderation is kind of my mantra. No, I am doing quite, quite well.
BM: We’re going to wrap it up here, but I would like to visualize somebody who has just been diagnosed with bladder cancer. From your experience, if there is one overarching takeaway you would share with that person, what would it be?
SB: Trust in your doctors, be sure you have good doctors. That’s the most important thing. Bladder cancer, it has been around forever. The doctors know what they’re doing, they’re very good at this. Trust in them, and believe in yourself. You are tougher than cancer.
BM: Sue, that’s a wonderful story and a wonderful message, especially for the person who has just been diagnosed with bladder cancer. So we want to thank you very much for coming on with us on Cancer Interviews.
SB: Thank you for letting me share my story.
BM: Thanks, Sue, for sharing your journey, one that, clearly, you are handling. And if you are just beginning your cancer journey, we hope you found inspiration from Sue. So that’s it for Cancer Interviews, and we’ll see you on down the road.
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