Sylvia Cole is intimately familiar with cancer’s randomness, its pain and the suffering it can cause. She survived a breast cancer diagnosis in 2006, but lost her father to liver cancer in 2004. She has had many family members, co-workers and friends touched by cancer, so she knows that when something isn’t “right,” you need to find out why.
ABOVE: Sylvia Cole (center) was encouraged and supported by best friends Donna Marie Nowlin (left) and Renee Newman through her cancer diagnosis and treatment.
“We’re all getting older and those aches and pains, well, you know you really should get them checked out. It could turn out to be something bad,” she said.
She admits she didn’t take her own advice, though. When she found spots of blood in her urine in early 2018, she didn’t act right away.
“I actually put it off for a few months,” confessed the 64-year-old Vacaville Realtor. “I would either forget, or get busy. But when the spots appeared again in the fall, that’s when I called.”
She saw her NorthBay Healthcare primary care physician, Stephen Newman, M.D., who referred her to Edward Wang, M.D., a NorthBay urologist. Dr. Wang ordered several diagnostic tests, including MRI and CT scans, and the tests revealed a tumor in her ureter and a biopsy revealed a diagnosis of urothelial cancer.
She was shocked.
“The thing is, I felt like a pretty healthy person,” she added, a tinge of disbelief in her voice. “I always get my yearly check-ups and I’m not on any medication or anything.”
Next she met with James Long, M.D., hematologist/oncologist with the NorthBay Cancer Center, who explained why she might have missed the seriousness of the situation.
“When there are tumors in the ureter, the only symptom is blood in the urine,” Dr. Long said. “There are no other warning signs. And having blood in the urine can sometimes be confused with urinary tract infections and kidney stones. But if the tumor continues to grow — and they can double in size every three months — then there is the chance the cancer can penetrate the blood vessels and move out of the ureter and into other parts of the body.”
Dr. Long recommended a course of chemotherapy to reduce the size of the tumor.
Sylvia’s first reaction to this was a hard “no.” She had already been through radiation treatment with her breast cancer, she explained, and was reluctant at first to go through all of that again.
“But, my two long-time friends, Donna Marie Nowlin and Renee Newman, came with me to the appointment with Dr. Long. They talked me into it, along with my husband, Bill. And, Dr. Long made a good point.”
“You need good renal function to manage this chemotherapy, and if you have the kidney removed, you may not have this option later,” Dr. Long explained. “Chemotherapy will destroy any cancer cells that may have migrated or metastasized, and reduce the risks of recurrence.”
Sylvia underwent three rounds of chemotherapy starting in January, and handled it all very well, according to Dr. Long.
“I didn’t get sick with chemotherapy,” Sylvia agreed, “but then I intentionally tried to keep my mind off it and kept myself busy.”
And, she got lots of support not only from her friends and co-workers, but also the nurses in the NorthBay Cancer Center. “They were great. Anytime I had a question about anything, they talked to me or called the doctor. Dr. Long is very reassuring.”
“Sylvia does have great friends, a very good support network,” Dr. Long added. “Her kind of cancer is rare and there are no screens for it. That’s why it’s important to see your doctor as soon as possible if you discover blood in your urine.”