Coping with Bladder Cancer

Read about what you can do, who can help and how to cope with the physical and practical problems of bladder cancer.

Your feelings

You might have a number of different feelings when you are told you have cancer. You may feel shocked and upset. You might also feel:

  • numb
  • frightened and uncertain
  • confused
  • angry and resentful
  • guilty

You may feel some or all of these feelings. Or you may feel totally different. Everyone reacts in their own way. Sometimes it is hard to take in the fact that you have cancer at all.

Feelings are a natural part of coming to terms with cancer. All sorts of feelings are likely to come and go.

Helping yourself

You are more able to cope and make decisions if you have information about your type of cancer and its treatment. Information also helps you to know what to expect.

Taking in information can be difficult at first. Make a list of questions before you see your doctor. Take someone with you to remind you what you want to ask and help remember the answers.

Ask your doctors and nurses to explain things again if you need them to.

Remember, you don’t have to sort everything out at once. It might take some time to deal with each issue. Ask for help if you need it.

Treatment causes side effects. These can be mild or more severe. Tell your doctor or nurse if you have any or if they get worse. They can treat them and help you find ways of coping.

Talking to other people

Telling other people about your diagnosis can be difficult but talking to your friends and relatives about your cancer can also be helpful. Your loved ones will want to support you so telling them about your cancer is the first step. See our page “Telling people about your cancer” for advice.

Some people find it easier to talk to someone outside of their own family and friends. If you think this would help you, ask your nurse to recommend a counsellor or see if your local cancer support centre offers this service.

Physical problems

Bladder cancer and its treatment might cause physical changes to your body. It may be difficult to cope with these changes and they can affect the way you feel about yourself.

Cystoscopies

Having regular cystoscopies can give you symptoms similar to having a bladder infection (cystitis), such as:

  • needing to pass urine often (frequency)
  • needing to go quickly (urgency)
  • pain or stinging when passing urine

You can also get a urine infection or blood in the urine (haematuria) afterwards. Your doctor or specialist nurse will advise you how to cope with this. They can also prescribe medicines to help.

After a cystoscopy to remove early bladder cancer, you might worry that the cancer could come back and that you may need further treatment. Knowing that you are going to have cystoscopies every few months might also worry you. But if everything goes well, your check ups gradually become less frequent.

Surgery

Surgery for bladder cancer might cause scarring. It can be difficult if you have your whole bladder removed (radical cystectomy and formation of a stoma).

You can get support to help you deal with the changes after surgery, particularly if you have a stoma. These body changes can affect your self-esteem and the way you relate to close family and friends.

Tiredness

You might also feel very tired and lethargic a lot of the time. This can be for a while after treatment, or if your bladder cancer is advanced.

Learn how to cope with fatigue from treatment or cancer

Relationships and sex

The physical changes you have can affect your relationships and sex life. There are things that you can do to help.

Men

If you are a man who has had bladder cancer surgery, you may have had your prostate removed. This can mean that you can no longer ejaculate. Surgery or radiotherapy may also mean that you cannot get an erection anymore, or that they are not as strong as they used to be. There are some options to help you get an erection. You can have a conversation with your specialist surgeon or nurse specialist regarding the use of:

  • drugs such as sildenafil (Viagra) or apomorphine
  • injections or pellets that go into the penis
  • a vacuum pump that draws blood into the penis to stiffen it, and give a normal erection.

Your doctor can tell you more about these options and if they are suitable for you.

Women

Surgery

After surgery to remove your bladder (cystectomy and formation of stoma) sex may feel different. This is because nerves in the area can be damaged during the operation. Surgery to remove your urethra can narrow or shorten your vagina. Talk to your surgeon about this before the operation. They can try to change your vagina as little as possible. You might also be able to use dilators afterwards to stretch your vagina and keep it open.

Dilators are plastic, cone shaped objects. They come in various sizes and you use them every day, for a few minutes.

You start by using the one that goes in most easily first. Over a few weeks, you gradually use larger sizes to stretch your vagina. Sex will do this too, but you might not feel like having sex soon after your operation.

Chemotherapy

After chemotherapy, women who haven’t already had their menopause can begin it early. This can lower your sex drive and lead to vaginal dryness.

Coping practically

As well as coping with your emotions after being diagnosed with bladder cancer, you might also have to work out how to manage practically.

Practical things you and your family might need to cope with include:

  • money matters
  • financial support, such as benefits, sick pay and grants
  • work issues
  • childcare

Try to remember that you don’t have to sort everything out at once. It might take some time to deal with each issue.

Ask for help if you need it. Your doctor or specialist nurse should know who you can contact to get help. They can put you in touch with professionals who are specially trained in supporting people with cancer. These people are there to help you so use them if you feel you need to.

You can get support from a stoma nurse or dietician. Social workers can help you with information about your entitlement to sick pay, benefits and help you to organise convalescence if you need when you first come out of hospital.

Visit our page, ‘Coping with the financial effects of cancer’ for more advice.