Faith, advice help man overcome bladder cancer

A Bartholomew County resident and service technician is living proof that sometimes even a major episode of cancer can be followed by, as well as preceded by, a rewarding life of family, work and good health.

Don Wade had worked at Cummins in the emissions measurement area, as well as farmed, for decades as he raised his family and enjoyed a robust energy and fitness level.

“I hadn’t had any notable health issues at all,” he said. “As a rule, I was very active.”

A little over six years ago, he noticed blood in his urine and he and his local doctor, Robert Allen, thought a kidney stone was digging in.

“That was indeed the case. I had a lithotripsy (a procedure using shock waves) done at Columbus Regional Hospital. It kind of blows up the stone. We thought that would take care of it,” Wade said.

He still experienced blood in his urine, though, and examination of a urine specimen showed abnormal cells. The next step was a cystoscope (a thin tube with a camera, which is inserted into the urethra). It revealed “a spot about the size of a number-two pencil.”

Dr. Allen transferred Wade to the IU urology department in Indianapolis. His specialist there was Dr. Richard Bihrle.

“Dr. Allen was good friends with Dr. Bihrle,” Wade said. “I didn’t realize at the time how renowned Dr. Bihrle was. He was the Pope’s urologist. People came from all over to see him.”

Bihrle wanted to try a process called BCG that burns the inside of the bladder. The patient rolls over during the procedure to coat the entire bladder lining.

“Boy, does it hurt when you get rid of it,” Wade said, referring to his vocal reaction as a “Tarzan moment.”

Wade went through six rounds of this. Afterward, Bihrle was encouraged enough to want to go for six more.

“But when we got into that, he was not seeing the improvement he wanted to see,” Wade said. “He said it was getting life-threatening. When somebody tells you that, you kind of sit up and pay attention.”

Wade does stress the level of attention he got from Dr. Bihrle, noting that he called him to have that conversation from the airport boarding area on his way out of the country.

Bihrle gave him contact information for some people who’d been through bladder cancer, so he could get their observations on how various treatment options they’d chosen had worked out.

“IU doctors really go to bat for you every way they can,” his daughter Ellen said. “They’re really good about providing people willing to share their experiences.”

The options basically came down to three:

A regular colostomy bag

A port in the patient’s abdomen and a tube for draining

Building a new bladder with 2 feet of tissue taken from the small intestine

“One of the guys I talked to had gone with the neobladder,” Wade said. “He said he was doing everything he’d ever done. It was a great help to talk to him. He answered all my questions about side effects and length of hospital stay.”

His surgery to construct the neobladder took place on July 12, 2012. It lasted more than 11 hours. His natural bladder, nearby lymph nodes and his prostate were removed during the procedure.

“Two months later, I was back at work,” Wade said. “I go for a CT scan every year and I see a urologist on an ongoing basis, but that’s it.”

He did have surgery in June of this year to address a kink in his right-side ureter. The surgical team did not know that it was a simple kink until they began operating.

“Going into it, I was thinking it could be more urinary-tract cancer,” Wade said. “I said, ‘Let’s skip the biopsy. Whatever it is, it has to come out.’”

Sometimes nature provides fateful alerts that can mean the difference between a cured cancer and a terminal case.

“A kidney stone saved my dad’s life,” Ellen said.

She sees it as one of many blessings that the family’s faith-based bonds made evident at the time.

“I was going through cervical cancer at the same time. That was diagnosed early as well, but the whole experience left our mother exhausted,” Ellen said.

The family’s church community at Flat Rock Christian Church was an important part of the support base, sending cards and visiting.

“I didn’t know I had so many friends,” Wade said.

Nodding in the direction of her father, Ellen said, “This is a very Christian man. Church and family are at the center of his life, and ours. When it comes to support, we want for nothing.”

Colors for a Cure

Who: Don Wade

Occupation: Service technician, Horiba Instruments

Age: 67

Resides: Rural Columbus

Type of Cancer: Bladder

Treatments: Surgery

Family members: Wife, Shelia; daughter, Ellen; son, Adam

Words of encouragement for others battling cancer: “Anybody who wants help with such a situation, give me a call. Talking to those who’d gone through it was one of the most helpful things for me.”