Harvey Lucas never suspected he had bladder cancer
Looking back, says Harvey Lucas, that advice from a worried friend helped save his life. For nearly a year, he had toughed out steadily worsening symptoms—mistakenly blaming them on kidney stones and hoping the stones would pass.
But what Harvey actually had was bladder cancer that had already spread deep inside his bladder wall. “It was such a shock—there aren’t really words for it,” he says. “Though I was almost 70, there was so much more I wanted to do.”
A cancer journey begins
Harvey’s symptoms started about three years ago with frequent and painful urination. “But then I began passing blood clots,” he recalls. Eventually, the pain became so severe that Harvey finally listened to his friend.
He headed to the Mercy Fitzgerald Emergency Department and was admitted to the hospital, where doctors discovered his cancer.
And then came more unsettling news: The standard treatment for a cancer as advanced as his is surgery to remove the bladder. And that meant Harvey might need to wear a bag outside his body to collect urine.
“Lying in that bed, I said: ‘No. That’s not going to happen. If I go, I’m taking all my parts with me’,” he says.
Following patient wishes
So a team of Mercy Fitzgerald specialists joined forces to treat Harvey’s cancer while sparing his bladder. Working closely together, they mapped out a plan that combined both the latest chemo and radiation therapy. His treatment ended roughly two years ago.
“It was a challenging case to treat,” says Bruce Sloane, MD, a Mercy Fitzgerald urologist. “Taking the bladder out when the cancer has grown deep into the bladder wall helps boost cure rates. And while Harvey understood this, he wasn’t comfortable with surgery.”
Dr. Sloane did the biopsy that found Harvey’s cancer. He has also closely monitored Harvey ever since his treatment ended to be sure the cancer hasn’t come back.
“And Harvey, despite the hurdles, has had wonderful results,” Dr. Sloane says. “He has no signs of cancer. That says a lot about our ability to successfully treat cancer and follow a patient’s wishes.”
Helping the whole person
Still, first-rate treatment isn’t the only thing Harvey received. “I was supported in every way possible,” he says. That support included the compassion—and encouragement—of virtually every doctor and nurse who cared for him.
“I was so overwhelmed at first that sometimes I would just break down and cry,” Harvey says. “People would hold my hand and tell me, ‘You’re going to get through this.’ That was such a help.”
One especially caring person helped him more times than he can count: Joy Hepkins, RN, BSN, OCN, the oncology nurse navigator at Mercy Fitzgerald. Her role is to help ease the stress of all patients facing cancer. It’s a broad role, defined by the individual needs of each patient.
She helps explain treatment options and arrange appointments, and is available to simply listen when that’s the best medicine. And she did all that—and more—for Harvey.
Here’s how she describes the first time they met, shortly before he started treatment: “He came straight to my office from his house. And it seemed all he had with him was the pain of a growing tumor.”
He didn’t have health insurance or a personal doctor, despite high blood pressure. And he lacked reliable transportation to and from the daily chemo treatments he needed. Joy arranged for all three of those necessities. She also convinced the power company not to turn off his utilities. Too sick to work, he hadn’t been able to pay his bills.
“We don’t just take care of cancer,” Joy says. “We care for the whole person. This lets our patients concentrate on one thing only: getting better.”
And Harvey couldn’t be more grateful for this approach. “I can’t say thank you enough,” he says.