Tom S.

Bladder Cancer - Stage 1

Tom Szafranek

The care I received at City of Hope was an expert level of care because the doctors and clinicians focus on cancer. The care was compassionate and personal, tailored to me. I feel so blessed that I was able to quickly and efficiently fight my cancer and return to living my life to the fullest. I am blessed beyond measure.

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. 

I met the love of my life in 1988, back when we were going to the same college. I was in the automated manufacturing program, and Lynda was a nursing student. It might sound cliché, but it was one of those love-at-first-sight moments. We met, and I was instantly head over heels for her.

I was recently divorced, and I had custody of my son and stepson. Lynda was warm, caring and kind. I was drawn to her heart and compassion for others. She also had two children, and we fell in love with each other’s children. We started dating in March 1988, and we married later that same year, in December.

Soon after, we adopted each other’s children, and about a year later, we welcomed our fifth child to our family, another son, and that made five kids, all boys, all in our home. Sometimes it was hectic and crazy, but we were a family, and I felt so blessed. We had a loving family, and I couldn’t have wanted anything more.

Fast forward to 2015. I came home from work during lunchtime, and I told my wife that earlier that day, I went to the bathroom and I saw blood in my urine. I was hoping she would tell me not to worry about it or to wait and see, but she immediately picked up the phone and called to make me a doctor’s appointment. I didn’t go back to work that day. Instead, I went to the doctor’s office and completed a urine test. The teset confirmed that it was blood in my urine, and I was sent to the hospital for a CT scan of my bladder to try to determine what was wrong.

The doctor at the hospital found a mass but was unsure about whether it was a cyst or a tumor. A biopsy was scheduled for the following day. Later that week, I got the news that I had bladder cancer. I was in total shock at this point. My doctors wanted me to see an oncologist as soon as possible to be set up for chemo first, followed by surgery. All I could think was that I needed some time to process the information. I wanted time to read, get information about the cancer and find out what my options were.

Getting a second opinion

We came home and called our children. We told them about the diagnosis and that we were looking at our treatment options. That’s when my Lynda told me that she thought God was leading us to Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA).* She told me that years ago, she had seen a CTCA® commercial on TV, and it impressed her so much that she thought, if anyone ever experiences cancer, this place is where we should go. She had put it out of her mind and then remembered CTCA, thinking that this was meant to be.

We called CTCA the next day, and everything was arranged quickly. I met with my care team, which included physicians, nurses, registered dietitians and supportive care clinicians. After completing tests and imaging scans over a few days, I met with my medical oncologist to go over my options. Together, we discussed the treatment recommended for me.

At CTCA, my care team discovered that I actually had two types of cancers: a high-grade urothelial carcinoma of the bladder and prostatic adenocarcinoma, Gleason 6. I was extremely fortunate to have caught it early, and that the cancer had not spread beyond my bladder and prostate. I was spared having to go through chemo and radiation, and my team offered me a new procedure using a neobladder. A neobladder reconstruction is a surgical procedure using a piece of intestine to construct a new bladder. This new bladder would allow me to urinate voluntarily and maintain continence. Essentially, I could live a much more normal life and continue my active lifestyle than if I would have had to use a urostomy bag. I liked the treatment plan my team was offering me.

In good hands

I went back to CTCA a couple weeks later for surgery in April 2015. Before the surgery, I had doctors, clinicians and clergy all stop by to share their support. We prayed, and I felt surrounded by love. I knew I was in good hands, and I had confidence in my surgeon.

When I came out of surgery, I felt the most vulnerable I ever have felt in my life. My body was very weak, and recovery took time. The nurses were so helpful and worked with me to help me reach my milestones. They got me up and walking around. They set goals for me, like walking 20 laps around the floor. They helped me accomplish what we set out to do, and I worked toward my goals. Those little things are a big deal when you are in the hospital. It gives you something to get up and do, something to work toward. They also allowed my wife to be a part of my care team, which made me much more comfortable.

I was in the hospital for about a week. My pain was under control, and I didn’t need to take a lot of pain medication. I took advantage of several supportive care therapies available to help with recovery and pain management. I don’t even like taking ibuprofen, so it was great that I had options other than pain medicine.

Before the surgery, I worked with a physical therapist to learn how to do Kegel exercises and practiced them to help with bladder control. My new bladder took some getting used to, but CTCA helped me with learning about my new normal and working through obstacles I faced.

Blessed beyond measure

Since the surgery, I haven’t required additional treatments for my cancer. I was declared having no evidence of disease, which was the best news I have ever received in my life. I return to CTCA for follow-up visits to check that the cancer has not returned. At first, I went every three months; now I go every six.

The care I received at CTCA was an expert level of care because the doctors and clinicians focus on cancer. The care was compassionate and personal, tailored to me. I feel so blessed that I was able to quickly and efficiently fight my cancer and return to living my life to the fullest. I am blessed beyond measure.

I tell everyone I meet about CTCA, and I tell them about the love I felt after walking through the doors, and that if they ever get a cancer diagnosis to go to CTCA for a second opinion.

Our 30th wedding anniversary is in December 2018. I can’t even tell you how grateful I am that we will be together and are going to make it to 30 years. We have been through so much, but it has made our relationship even stronger. We love each other so much more deeply and have found new ways to connect.

I know that I am blessed to be here, and I am so happy to have Lynda by my side. Our love for each other and our children has grown, and we are looking forward to making new memories together. I can focus on a future and make plans for tomorrow.

Lynda’s story

I met Tom in college and I also knew that it was love at first sight. Throughout our marriage, we have always put our family first. We knew we wanted our children to have stability and love in their lives. I decided to be a stay-at-home mom to care for my husband and our children. It was a very important job to me.

So when Tom came home that afternoon and told me about the blood in his urine, I sprang into action. I made an appointment right away for him. When the doctor at the hospital told Tom he had cancer, I had a new purpose. Realizing the severity of his diagnosis, I knew that we needed to know all our options. Soon, we found our way to CTCA.

Tom and I always approach life’s challenges together, and this was no different. My role was to be there for Tom, the man I took a vow to cherish and love. At CTCA, even the caregivers are supported and encouraged to be actively involved. I was with him for his evaluation, surgery and at every appointment afterwards. The doctors and nurses were extremely friendly and, most importantly, patient with all our questions. I never felt rushed, and we were part of the treatment decision-making process.

Today, we are closer as a couple than ever before. This experience has allowed us to explore, grow and expand our relationship and our love for each other. We have found new things to do together, and we are connected on a much deeper level.

I look back at our experience, and I’m so relieved that we sought out a second opinion at CTCA. I look at all the milestones and memories we have made since completing Tom’s cancer treatment.

We have returned to life as usual and are making the most of our days. Tom and I are looking forward to many years of happiness together, and we just celebrated his third year of survivorship. We cherish the time we spend with friends and family because we know just how precious each day is.

Learn the risk factors and how to recognize the signs and symptoms of bladder cancer.

* Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA) is now City of Hope®, working together to expand patient access to personalized, comprehensive cancer care. Because this patient testimonial was written and published before CTCA® and City of Hope joined forces, mentions of legacy CTCA locations have not been updated in the interest of maintaining the patient’s original voice and story details.

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