Andy G’s Cancer Story
Andy was diagnosed with transitional cell carcinoma at the end of June 2016. Andy’s cancer story is one that is full of struggles like discomfort and bills, but also full of love and support.
We asked Andy about his diagnosis; how he got diagnosed and how he felt after his diagnosis.
“When I first got the diagnosis, it was somewhat expected after what had been going on, symptom-wise. I had been to my primary care doctor 3 times for cases of hematuria — once 2 years ago (treated for broken blood vessel), again in March (treated for UTI), Urgent Care visit in June (treated for clotting from UTI), and then that last visit, the one that came at 4 am on the morning of June 23rd. I had an appointment the next day to be seen, as the hematuria returned yet again, but found my bladder wasn’t emptying, though it felt very full. My girlfriend, Sarah, strongly urged that I go to the ER, as it’s now clear that something serious is going on and needs immediate attention. When we got to Fairview Southdale in Edina, MN, I was quickly admitted and got the catheter business inserted (ouch!), got sent out for some scans, and had me on my way with a catheter bag wrapped around my leg. While waiting, I noticed pressure build back up in my bladder and that nothing was emptying into the bag. In fact, it was leaking. So as soon as she got back, we headed back to the ER. The same nurse that discharged me saw me, did a double-take, and said, “Wait, didn’t we just release you less than an hour ago?” I said, “Yes. Something’s wrong. I’m not emptying into my bag and I really have to go. Nothing’s coming out.” Then the real fun began.The catheter was quickly removed for a much bigger 3-way catheter to remove clotting they say from earlier ultrascans — that catheter going in was the most excruciating pain I’ve experienced (even after playing hockey for most of my life). After removing about 2-3 cups of blood clots from my bladder, I was admitted for the day and referred to a urologist. Ironicially, I had gotten a consultation three months prior from the Urologist that was about to walk through the door — he was incredibly memorable because of his warm bedside manner; sprinkling in a great sense of humor rounded by bluntness. Not to mention the fact that he speaks with a British accent, wears a bow tie, and stands very tall above most people… I remember leaving his office then thinking how neat of a human he is and how instantly connected I felt to him. To my relief, he was the one that walked through the door the next afternoon to tell me what he’s seen from my scans — part of my left kidney appears to be shriveled and that he needed to perform a cystoscopy to get a better feel for what’s going on. They had me spend the night in the hospital to get the scope done first thing in the morning. When I came to after that, he stopped by again to chat, and this point my mother and father had made their way into the room and got the opportunity to meet the legendary Dr. John Hulbert, so my parents and Sarah were all in the same room for the prognosis. He crouched by me and said that what he’s seen is high grade transitional cell carcinoma, and is curable with the removal of the kidney and ureter. He thought that it had been there for a while and grew very slowly, possibly being a birth defect. It appeared to be completely contained, and the other kidney and my bladder looked great, as did my lymph nodes, which was good news.At this point, it was starting to come together, but I was still fixated on the “curable” part. My parents (my mom is a lab tech, and my dad used to be an EMT, so they know all the jargon) had questions for him, none of which I remember. Once Dr. Hulbertleft my hospital room, I turned to my dad and said, “Soooo… does this mean I have cancer?” He slowly nodded and said, “Yes. You do.” Then it hit me. Hard. Then all the thoughts started racing through my head: Is this terminal? What will follow up be like? What are the chances it spread? For what I thought I knew of cancer at that time, I had no clue what was ahead of me or what cancer truly is. So I was partially prepared by the time I finally got the prognosis — I had mentally checked off all the potential maladies up to then: broken blood vessel, UTI, kidney stones… Not much after that. I did know that my life would never be the “normal” that it was weeks or months prior; not only because I was suddenly aware of the fact that I had been living with cancer for an indeterminate period of time, but that I will have to live with an organ removed and will require annual monitoring and scans and might have to go through chemo, which could open up doors for more problems down the road. And to boot, I’m only 37.”
Andy also told us about the hardships that he’s been facing ever since. One of his greatest hardships has been coming to terms with his unknown future. But while he has to worry about how his cancer will affect him, he also has to worry about the medical bills and other financial burdens that will add up.
“One of my best childhood friends texted me the most heartfelt message before I went in for my laparoscopic nephroureterectomy, saying he can’t imagine how scared I must be facing my mortality. In all honesty, it didn’t frighten me — it exposed the true fragility of life. I realized that my time could be up and I better embrace life like I never have, even though I knew I’m most likely going to be fine. It got me thinking though, and it really did change a lot of perspective on what’s important in life and what battles are worth fighting. It seems like it’s instilled a bit more patience as well, because I realize most problems I had a few months ago pale in comparison to fighting cancer. Then the financial hardship came. As if battling this disease isn’t consuming enough, the bills started piling on, which is why I started looking for financial support. My personal nature is more of a provider role (I’m a Supply Chain Analyst/Purchasing Agent for the brewery I am employed at), so asking for help doesn’t come easy. When my search for cancer support lead me to the GiveForward site, it seemed like the right fit and the platform to allow all those friends and family members asking how to help.”
We asked Andy about what or who has been his greatest comfort and support during these hard times. He told us that his girlfriend has been without a doubt, his support beam. They met in college in ’98 and became good friends.
“Interestingly enough, she had thought Western Medicine had become a machine to just write more and more prescriptions for whatever is troubling us without looking at the underlying issue: basically treating the symptoms, but not the cause. So not only was she fascinated by the process I was going through and exactly what they were doing to me, she has been at my side every step of the way. From pushing me to see the ER at 4 am on a Thursday morning to sleeping in a cot in my hospital room to pushing me to get exercise. A week after my surgery, I was able to get off opioids and was nearly completely pain free from the incisions after a couple of her acupuncture treatments. She’s an eternal empath optimist healer, exactly what I need in my life, especially now. I literally don’t know how I would have gotten through all of this without her emotional, physical, and medical help. It’s not at all to take away from the enormous support system I have in friends and family — growing up in a small town of about 4000 people with 50 cousins on one side means a lot of people know each other and word spreads quickly. I’ve also been in job roles in the entertainment industry that opened up a lot of doors, so I’ve seen a lot of support from there too and it’s been incredibly moving as I’ve been out of the industry for a while.”
While Andy may not have an inspirational quote that he goes to, he still keeps positive.
“I try to keep myself centered as much as possible by knowing that life isn’t infinite, but some of us know when that timer goes off. It seemed like mine might have, but I wasn’t ready to let it. Staying positive and upbeat really has kept me going, and seeing reinforcement from my Facebook friends bolstered that sense of persistence. I know that I couldn’t have possibly made any changes to prevent what I’m going through, so it’s not like I’m in this situation due to irresponsibility or poor decisions. This is the hand that life gave me, so I’m going to play the shit out of it.“
Andy wasn’t sure that he’s had enough experience to “drop any wisdom bombs,” but he wants to continually urge people to keep their head up, keep smiling, and keep looking forward.
“None of us know what the day will bring, so make the most of it and treat everyone you encounter with a smile and respectful compassion. Pay attention to the little things in life, and try to live with a sense of gratitude as much as possible.”
One of the tougher interview questions was the nicest or best thing he’s experienced post-diagnosis. He feels there have been so much done for him since his journey started. One of Andy’s most memorable experiences is when Dr. Hulbert decided to perform surgery on Andy even though it was the doctor’s birthday and Dr. Hulbert had been planning to take the day off.
“From when I was in the hospital, the care and sensitivity of the staff struck me immediately. I’m very lucky to live in a state with such exceptional health care, and I’ve been told numerous times over how good of hands I’m in there and with Dr. Hulbert and my Oncologist, Dr. Priya Kumar. They’ve taken the time to answer all of our questions fully and to the best of their knowledge, and were sure to get opinions from other colleagues. Come to think of it, one of the most striking things of this process was how the timing of my surgery went down — Dr. Hulbert was planning on visiting his daughter in Australia the second week of July, which was the soonest I could get in with him for my procedure. The choice was to either wait until he got back, around the last week of July, or have his associate perform it. Because of the trust and connection I felt toward him, I said I’d feel most comfortable having him do it, but because of the nature of what it is, I didn’t think I’d be able to clear it from my head enough to work for the next few weeks. Out of the blue, on the afternoon of Thursday, July 1, I got a call from Shannon at Dr. Hulbert’s office that they were able to juggle schedules and get me on for surgery on the 5th. That meant bowel prep on the 4th. Which meant I had a day and a half at work to prepare for being out of commission for 2+ weeks while on bedrest. So the race began… I later found out that July 5 is Dr. Hulbert’s birthday, and he had planned on taking it off to celebrate. Instead, he cancelled so he could treat me. That morning, before going into anesthesia, with my mom and Sarah by my side, the Anesthesiologist said that I’m the only person on the schedule of all the surgeons today, and I have their full attention. The drugs had just started kicking in at that point, and they were about to wheel me off to put me under, but that was a huge gesture that put me at ease when I needed it most.”
GiveForward has eased Andy’s ability to ask for help from his community of support. It has also given him the ability to update his loved ones. While a battle with cancer is never easy, GiveForward can help make it easier.