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Cancer Treatment Centers of America

Jennifer Balzano

Bladder cancer - Stage T2a

This testimonial includes a description of this patient’s actual medical results. Those results may not be typical or expected for the particular disease type described in this testimonial. You should not expect to experience these results.

View CTCA treatment results for prevalent cancers we treat

Overview

My story

When I was 41 years old, I noticed a little bit of blood in my urine. It occurred just once and was not accompanied by any other symptoms. I thought it was strange. Why would there be blood in my urine? So I went to the emergency room.

Originally from the Northeast, I used to work as a police officer, but now I stay at home with my three young daughters while my husband works. I’m rarely sick. I exercise. I don’t smoke and never have. So you can imagine my surprise when an ultrasound taken at the hospital showed a tumor in my bladder. The ER doctor could not confirm the diagnosis as cancer, but I was distraught.

That weekend, I was barely able to sleep. While flipping through TV channels late at night, I saw a commercial for Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA) and decided to call. It was 1 a.m. on a Sunday, and I didn’t expect anyone to answer the phone, but an Oncology Information Specialist named Edgar answered. He stayed on the phone and talked with me. He listened and comforted me, encouraging me to wait until I had a clear diagnosis.

The next few days were a whirlwind. I was scheduled to see a urologist recommended by the hospital. I went here and there for one appointment and another. I needed an imaging scan, I needed to have blood taken, and I waited and traveled between each appointment. In the meantime, Edgar and a nurse from CTCA® kept in touch with me. Finally, I received the diagnosis. The tumor was malignant. I had bladder cancer.

I was in shock. There’s no other word for it. I was overwhelmed. This wasn’t a cold that I could get through in a few days. I was going to need serious treatment, and my outcome was uncertain. I felt lonely. One minute I’m a mom with three beautiful girls and the next minute I’m a cancer patient. And I had no idea what was going to happen to me.

The power of options

From the start, my experience at CTCA was different. The whirlwind was gone. I received all the information I needed; all my appointments were scheduled; I was handed contact details. I saw all my doctors on the same day. I had tests and blood work, and the results were available almost immediately. There was no going home to wait, dreading the news to come. The environment of CTCA was unlike any hospital I’d been to before. The atmosphere was warm and inviting. The people were welcoming. I felt sympathy and understanding.

I underwent surgery to remove the tumor, but I was told that a tiny amount, measuring just 0.2 centimeters, remained in my bladder wall afterwards. My urologist, Dr. Shelfo, explained my treatment options as well as my medical situation, that the tumor was in the wall of my bladder, burrowed into the muscle. Dr. Shelfo explained to me that bladder tumors tend to have a high likelihood of recurrence, which needed to be factored into my treatment options. I understood that I could have topical chemotherapy to kill the cancer cells, or I could have a partial bladder removal, or I could have my entire bladder removed.

I decided to proceed with removal of my bladder, followed by reconstructive surgery to create a “neo-bladder” using part of my small intestine. This approach was the one that I decided was right for me, given my age and the life I want to live.

Supportive care

The people close to me were supportive during this time. I was scared to tell my children, but when I came home from surgery with a walker and tubes coming out of me, they were filled only with love. My mother became my nurse; my father drove me to every appointment and stayed with me because my husband had to continue working during this time. My in-laws took care of my children for most of the summer during my recovery. What more can a person ask for at a time like this?

My doctors and everyone else at CTCA were also part of my support system. I tend to think the worst and had a lot of anxiety during my treatment. I worried about every little thing. Dr. Shelfo would listen to my concerns but also discouraged me from searching too much medical information online. My medical oncologist, Dr. Taha, was also incredibly caring. Once, having heard I was upset about something, he called me at home on a Friday night just before he left for a vacation. I asked him why he was calling me, and he said he just wanted to make sure I was okay before he left.

My mind-body therapist gave me the time and space to express what I was feeling inside. I was so scared and had so much anxiety, and she reassured me that what I was feeling was normal. When I was at the hospital for a week after surgery, she came to sit with me and talk. Now that I am going to CTCA only for follow-up visits, she still visits with me and checks on how I’m doing.

CTCA is a community. From the first day, a patient is brought into that community with open arms. I felt safe there, and not alone. I had the company of other patients who were going through difficult times, and who helped keep me strong.

The biggest surprise

The most unexpected outcome from this experience is that I like myself better after going through cancer treatment. I am more patient and more caring. I was attentive to the needs of others before, but now I have so much more awareness. Having gone through a time of such need, now I want to be there for others even more. It is strange to say that I’m a better person for having had cancer, but it’s true.

Life after recovery is good. I am back to doing what I was doing before. I am exercising with weight training and yoga and am even jogging a little bit. The surgical procedure to create a neo-bladder has left no problems behind—my body works just as it did before my diagnosis. My husband and I have date nights and recently celebrated 11 years of marriage. I return to CTCA about every three months.

All I wanted was to have my normal life back again. CTCA gave me that gift.