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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

I can make this devil work for me: A doctor lives with bladder cancer

Dr. Richard Waltman’s story about his own cancer:

Yes, the tumor was there, and yes, I needed a second trip to the O.R., but the procedures went well, the catheter eventually came out, and the BCG treatments [which use something originally developed as a tuberculosis vaccine] have been relatively easy. Most of the time I feel so good that I don't think about my illness. Then it reminds me, sometimes loudly, "This is your bladder cancer speaking; I'm still here."

"No, you're gone," I answer. "The last cystoscopy looked great, and the BCG treatments will keep you away."

"Okay for now," it responds, "but I'll be back." And, you know, it's probably right.

In tournament play, professional soccer features something called "extra time"—an additional 30 minutes in the event of a tie after regulation time. It's the game's way of saying, "We'll give you a little more time. Take advantage of it."

In a way, this is my "extra time," and I have every intention of using it to do what I love most: being with my wife and sons and taking care of my patients. Only I plan to do these things better and enjoy them more.

I've been in practice for 23 years, and my experience as a cancer patient has taught me a few things, and confirmed things I suspected all along.

I can make this devil work for me. I haven't made any formal announcement of my illness at work, but neither have I kept it a secret. I've even told a few patients. One woman, for example, was ready to stop chemotherapy for breast cancer. "What's the use?" she asked me. I told her of my malignancy and treatments. We do it, I told her, because there are people who don't want to lose us, and because we're not ready to lose them. We made a deal: We'd both continue treatment, and we'd both get better.

Advice to cancer patients: Find ways to “make this devil work for you.”

Read another of our cancer survivor stories, or read Dr. Waltman’s source story. Thank you, Helen Haskell.

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