Sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean. Photo by Steve Martaindale

In the fall of 2011, I acquired a designation nobody really wants … until they become eligible for it and then greatly desire it: cancer survivor.

To be honest, I long hesitated claiming the label because my bladder cancer was caught early, was completely removed, and we’re able to easily monitor it in order to catch any recurrences.

My approach shifted somewhat during a cruise in the spring of 2018. Holland America Line features a fund-raising 5k walk around the promenade deck on each cruise. Monies raised are passed to five cancer organizations in five different countries.

Joining Leah and me were our cruising buddies, Deb and Steve. I was, at this time, more than six years cancer-free, but Deb had only recently won her first battle with breast cancer. The four of us found a crowd of participants waiting for the walk to begin, but those running things called for all cancer survivors to come forward.

It was incredibly moving to be cheered by everyone, made even more powerful because the number of survivors was not nearly as large as I expected.

Our little group was then asked to lead off the walk. Leah and Steve never caught up with Deb and I as we circled the deck some 10 times. We talked about many things, I’m sure, but we especially shared memories and experiences about our respective cancer ordeals.

Bottom line, I came out of that morning stroll in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean feeling permission to refer to myself as a cancer survivor.

On cancer watch

First of all, allow me to refer you to a compilation of my experiences. I wrote about what happened in some detail and it’s still available online by clicking here. My purpose was and remains to, first, spread the word that spotting urine in one’s blood is a call to check it out, not just hope it goes away. Second, I hope to make it easier for someone dealing with bladder cancer by explaining what I went through.

I don’t think any cancer survivor feels much confidence they have totally and decidedly defeated the disease. It was made clear to me even before the first surgery that there is a good chance the cancer will return. To combat that possibility, I’ve been going in regularly – annually for the past several years – for a cystoscopy, where a camera is inserted into my bladder through the urethra and the fleshy walls are examined for anything suspicious.

My original urologist retired some years ago. My new doctor added a biennial MRI (or CT scan … why can I not keep those straight?)

Last September, the scan was clear, and we began the visual inspection primed to declare me “11 years cancer-free.”

But there was something a little different. A small area of the bladder wall had a red discoloration, much akin to a rash in my interpretation. The urologist said she was confident it was nothing serious but wanted to get a biopsy to make sure. After all, that’s why we do these every year.

I was about to begin a 10-week job near Houston, so we put it off. Holidays and then our trip to Spain pushed it back some more until March 8.

Of course, while she was taking a sample for the biopsy, she went ahead and removed the suspected area.

Looking good?

The biggest difference between this and my first two surgeries was my first doctor had me wear a catheter for three full days, but now she wanted me to put up with it for a solid week. Wednesday morning, a nurse removed the catheter and I’ve been steadily improving ever since.

It’s now my doctor’s turn to take a vacation and she wasn’t there this week (no surprise, as she told me in advance), so I still have not received her official word on the outcome of the tests.


The hospital with which she is associated has an online patient portal. There, sure enough, I found a 14-word synopsis from the radiologist that began with “Minute benign …” and ended with, “Negative for dysplasia or malignancy.” Not confident enough in my interpretation, I ran it by my pharmacist son-in-law for his opinion, which came back, “That looks to me like you are clear!”

So, now, I am guardedly proclaiming myself 11 and a half years cancer-free.


On our most recent cruise a year ago, I joined the deck walk again. They called cancer survivors to an open area before things began in order to grab a photo.

I had gotten down on one knee in the front and then assisted an older man, wearing a Vietnam veteran cap, as he lowered himself down next to me.

“Mine was prostate cancer,” he said. “What about you?”

I will never again hesitate to happily don the mantle “cancer free.”


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