In 2003 at just 55 years old and 31 years into his career at GE Electric Boat, Rick was not yet thinking about retirement. But one day at work would change his life forever. It was a typical day in November until Rick used the restroom and saw significant amounts of blood in his urine.
“The day I saw the blood, I knew something was really wrong," said Rick. "I was terrified. The shipyard has a hospital, so I went there immediately, but they couldn’t see any blood in my urine at that moment.”
Rick had been seeing a urologist already to manage his frequent urination at night, so he followed up with his primary care doctor. Aware of his previous health condition, Rick's doctor felt it could be a urinary tract infection and sent him home with antibiotics.
“The next time I saw blood in my urine it was the following month, during the holidays. I was off from work and had taken a bus trip to New York. When I saw the blood again, I knew the problem wasn’t resolved.” Rick called his urologist’s office this time and spoke with the doctor on call. She told him not to panic, blood in the urine could be caused by a number of reasons.
“The truth is, I was scared to death.”
In January 2004, Rick saw his urologist who sent him for an ultrasound and cystoscopy. The test confirmed that the bleeding was caused by a tumor on his bladder. “When I talked to my doctor at the time, he said that I could have a good 10 years to live. I had saved enough money from my 31 years of service at the shipyard, so I decided to retire to live the rest of my life to the fullest.”
Initially, Rick had the tumor removed, and for nine years he continued to get BCG (Bacillus Calmette-Guerin) treatments to manage the cancer. Even after several surgeries, there was continued presence of cancer in the bladder.
By 2012, the cancer had advanced into the muscle layer. His doctor at the time was concerned about the serious nature of the cancer now that it had spread into the muscle, and he referred Rick to Yale Urology. During a consultation with Dr. Dinesh Singh, Rick learned that he would need to have his bladder removed in the near future. In the meantime, he could continue his treatments with his current doctor.
In 2013, when Rick returned to Yale Urology to discuss the removal of his bladder, he met with Dr. Preston Sprenkle, who would perform the surgery.
“He was fantastic," said Rick. "He really listened to me and took the time to understand what I thought was important. He addressed all my concerns and made me feel comfortable with the treatment plan. The surgery would require removing my bladder and my prostate. We talked about all my options and my lifestyle. I am really active, so Dr. Sprenkle felt a neobladder would be best for me. It would allow me to urinate normally without any major changes in my external appearance.”
Rick had his surgery on May 24, 2013.
“The two scariest times of my life were when I found out I had cancer, and when I was facing surgery to have my bladder removed. I remember thinking, ‘I’ve had my bladder up until now, and now it needs to come out.’ But Dr. Sprenkle and everyone at Yale Urology was supportive and caring. I always tell people if you need surgery, then Yale should be your first choice. They really know what they are doing.”
If there’s one thing that Rick has learned, it’s that the dread about what might be wrong is a lot worse than getting the condition treated. He tells people if they have blood in their urine, or any concern for that matter, don’t wait or expect that it will go away on its own. Avoiding the issue is not a good plan and will not help you get better.
“I know a lot of men are concerned about procedures that may lead to erectile dysfunction after surgery," said Rick. "And truthfully, ED was the biggest loss for me. You want to feel as whole as possible. But talking to Dr. Sprenkle about my concerns has helped. There are many options available to deal with erectile dysfunction post-surgery. You should not let that stop you from facing your illness and heading down the path to recovery.”
After surgery and chemotherapy, Rick is currently cancer free. His neobladder works perfectly with his lifestyle.
“It finally feels good not to have the cancer hanging over me. I feel great, and I’m out there enjoying life.”