Completing your treatment and pushing bladder cancer back into remission is a reason to celebrate. You've made it through a difficult time, and you may even feel like a different person. Now that it's over, you probably can't wait for things to go back to the way they used to be.
However, as many survivors know, cancer does not end after treatment. Evidence suggests non-muscle invasive bladder cancers (making up approximately 70% off those diagnosed with urothelial carcinoma) have a high recurrence rate - up to 70% within two years of treatment - so it's normal to have concerns and ask questions. What steps can I take to prevent recurrence? How do I cope with the fear of it returning? How do I stay positive and keep my energy levels up?
It's common for survivors to worry about their cancer returning, and it takes time for life to feel "normal" again. Managing life after bladder cancer isn't easy, but it's possible. In this guide, we'll share some tips to help you reduce the risk of recurrence and stay in a healthy frame of mind.
Take Care of Your Bladder
After bladder cancer treatment, you can take steps to help protect your bladder from recurrence. The following tips will help reduce the risk:
- Quit smoking: According to the American Cancer Society, smoking is thought to be the cause of about half of all bladder cancers. Although quitting can be tough, it'll help you feel healthier overall and less anxious about cancer. If you need assistance, speak with your doctor about medications or other options to help you quit.
- Stay hydrated: Drinking lots of fluids, particularly water, may lower your risk of developing bladder cancer. Try to drink six to eight glasses of water a day.
- Get your fruits and veggies: A diet high in fruits and vegetables may help keep your bladder healthy. A nutrient-rich diet also lowers the risk of developing other types of cancers. Aim to have at least five servings of fruits and vegetables every day, and also eat whole grains several times a day.
- Exercise: Regular exercise helps reduce the risk of recurrence and can add more years to your life. Only 30 minutes a day of moderate exercise reduces anxiety and symptoms such as fatigue, nausea and pain. Talk with your doctor about the right exercise program for you, and plan to start slowly.
Cancer is a life-changing experience, and fear that the cancer will come back is one of the most common concerns experienced by survivors. In this respect, time heals, and many cancer survivors report thinking about the disease less often as the years go by. In the meantime, here are some tips to help you gain control of your fear in the present:
- Acknowledge your fears: Before you can understand your fears, you need to be able to name them. Write down everything you're afraid of on a piece of paper. This will help you look clearly at your concerns, so you can manage them better.
- Learn about the disease: Learn as much as you can about bladder cancer, its treatment and the services available to you. Understand your risk of recurrence and what you can do to reduce any risks. This will help you gain a sense of control and show you how to recover physically and emotionally.
- Express yourself: Sometimes, expressing feelings like sadness, anger or fear can help you release them and keep them from controlling your thoughts. You might share your concerns with friends, family members, a counselor or others going through the same experience as you. If you're not comfortable sharing your feelings with others, you can also sort through them by writing them down.
- Find ways to relax: Permit yourself to relax when you feel anxious or afraid. You can meditate, get a massage, try simple breathing techniques or cuddle with a pet — whatever it takes to help you feel calm.
- Distract yourself: It's good to distract yourself and not think about cancer, and sometimes it's the best way to cope with fear. You can exercise, pick up an old hobby or try something new. If you can find an activity you enjoy, which also helps prevent a recurrence, you'll double the benefits.
- Be aware of triggers: Certain situations and events can trigger the fear of recurrence, even if they're meant to be happy. For example, a one-year anniversary of being in remission is a reason to rejoice, but it may also prompt concern. Recognize triggers and think about how you can manage them before they appear.
- Consider what you can control: Controlling aspects of your life, like lifestyle choices and your everyday routine, can help reduce feelings of fear. You can set a daily schedule, for example, to create a sense of control over your life and keep yourself from dwelling on scary thoughts.
- Accept what you can't control: No one can have control over cancer recurrence, and it helps to accept this rather than worry. Try to focus on the present moment rather than the future or the past, and reach out to others for support when you need it.
Many cancer survivors experience extreme tiredness during their first year of recovery, which usually improves over time. If you feel tired and nothing seems to help, speak with your doctor to determine the cause. Here's how to cope with fatigue as your body heals:
- Be active during the time of day you're most energetic.
- Stick to a regular sleep schedule.
- Allow others to help you with chores or errands.
- Ask for help with chores when you need it.
- Take short naps or breaks between activities.
- Save your energy for the most important activities.
- Enjoy activities that aren't exhausting and lift your spirits, like reading a short story or watching a comedy.
Join a Cancer Support Group
Joining a support group can help you overcome feelings of loneliness and learn new coping skills. You'll soon realize that many people are going through the same thing as you, and they understand how you feel. There are different types of support groups out there, from formal meetings that focus on learning about bladder cancer to informal gatherings that may include family or friends. You should also consider speaking with a counselor individually if you feel more comfortable with one-on-one interactions. Either way, there's no need to cope with cancer alone.
Prioritize Follow-Up Care
Follow-up care for bladder cancer is the next step after treatment and essential for your ongoing wellbeing. Cancer survivors should receive a personalised follow-up care plan from their doctor to regularly check for recurrence, while taking as many preventative measures as possible.
In follow-up appointments, your doctor will examine you for side effects from treatment. They'll also run tests to determine if cancer has returned or spread to other parts of your body. In general, doctors prescribe a cystoscopy to examine your bladder every 3-6 months for the first two years after treatment, and every 6-12 months for years 3 and 4. If there are no signs of recurrence after several years of monitoring, you may then only need a cystoscopy annually. Your doctor may also suggest periodic urine testing or other forms of examination to help them detect recurrence.
Here are ways to make the most of follow-up care:
- Talk to your doctor about side effects: Bladder cancer treatment can cause side effects that may last for months or years. Common side effects include fatigue, pain and memory problems. Everyone copes with side effects differently, so it's important to speak with your doctor about any symptoms you're experiencing.
- Ask questions: Ask your doctor questions about your care plan and mention anything that's worrying you. For example, you might ask about symptoms or signs to look out for. Write down any questions you have before your appointment.
- Comply with recommended tests: It's crucial to attend your follow-up appointments and participate in any tests or exams your doctor orders.
Take Charge of Your Health with Cxbladder
Cxbladder is a cutting-edge genomic urine test that quickly and accurately detects or rules out bladder cancer. The test works at a molecular level, measuring five biomarker genes to detect the presence or absence of bladder cancer.
If you're recovering from bladder cancer and are being checked regularly for recurrence, ask your doctor about Cxbladder Monitor as a non-invasive surveillance alternative. Compared to invasive and often uncomfortable procedures like cystoscopy, Cxbladder provides accurate results with an easy-to-collect urine sample.
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