Mark's Story - Bladder Cancer
Mark Felling was an avid backpacker who worked out regularly and had never smoked.
He couldn’t have been healthier…or so he thought until April 2008, when suddenly everything changed. Today, the 53-year-old aerospace engineer and Seal Beach, CA, resident looks back and can’t believe he’s still alive.
It started with an intense, frequent urge to urinate, which soon turned into an alarming dark-red stream of urine. Felling immediately visited a urologist, who undertook several blood tests and told him to come back in a month. Not wanting to wait, Felling visited another doctor the next day. That urologist used a scope to look into his bladder and found three tumors. After a biopsy, Felling was diagnosed with a stage 1, low-risk cancer. The urologist suggested that Felling return in six months to keep an eye on it. But Felling wasn’t comfortable with the wait-and-see approach.
He visited Dr. Mark S. Litwin, professor and chair of UCLA Urology. Dr. Litwin sent Felling’s blood tests and scans to a UCLA Urology lab, which determined that Felling in fact had a stage 2, grade 3, high-risk cancer that had penetrated his muscle tissue. Felling’s best chance for survival was to remove the bladder. Knowing the patient had already been through a tumultuous time, Dr. Litwin suggested that Felling talk with other patients in a bladder cancer support group at UCLA.
“You can hear about what to expect from a surgery from a doctor,” Felling says. “But when you talk to someone else who has been where you are and can tell you how you are going to feel and live after surgery, that’s valuable and gave me confidence in my decision.”
Armed with that knowledge, Felling went in for the surgery. It took some time getting used to his new bladder, but he had no complications of incontinence. Shortly after the surgery, Felling resumed his backpacking. Four years later, he no longer lives in the shadow of bladder cancer. Thirty-mile hikes are no problem. And through his membership in the Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network, Felling is spreading the word on the importance of getting a second – or in his case, third – opinion.