Getting "Back to Life" after bladder cancer: a book review

Getting "Back to Life" after bladder cancer: a book review

Frank Sadowski was diagnosed with bladder cancer in November of 2007. Within a few weeks he underwent an eight-hour surgery, a complete radical cystectomy with a neobladder reconstruction.

In his book, “Back to Life,” Sadowski’s doctor, Sia Daneshmand explained radical cystectomy this way: “We cut you from stem to stern, and take out your bladder, prostate, seminal vesicles, and thirty to fifty abdominal lymph nodes.”

Like his doctor, Sadowski’s book is blunt and straightforward. He tells the truth: about searing pain from a catheter disaster, about loneliness after surgery, about losing his athletic stamina, and about the late arrival of overpowering fear.

Despite the fact that more than half a million people are living with bladder cancer, there is a dearth of writing about the experience, and “Back to Life” is a welcome source.

Bladder cancer is a beast. It has the highest recurrence rate of any cancer, and is, thus, the most expensive to treat. It requires lifelong surveillance after diagnosis.

And, radical cystectomy is one of the most intense and life changing surgeries a person can endure. As Sadowski’s doctor told him, “You’re going to go to sleep at 54 and wake up at 64.”

Indeed, he did. When I spoke to him about his book he said that the hardest part for him has been the loss of his athletic abilities.

“If there is a sadness in the book, it’s that it really destroyed my ability to cycle at the level I was before. It’s never come back,” he said. “I mean, you can think of a hundred things to be sad about. What makes me sad is losing the fitness level I had….I’ve tried hard.”

He’d like people to read his book as “a story of adventure” and not just as a cancer memoir. At the heart of the adventure is a cycling story.

He takes us along on a bike trip after the surgery, and we feel his struggle and his hard work. A year after his surgery, he participated in the Ride for the Roses, a race sponsored by the Livestrong organization. He had participated four times before, riding the 108-mile course in honor of his wive, a veteran of breast cancer and a friend who died of breast cancer.

This race, however, was unlike the others. He rode as a “survivor” on the shorter 62-mile course, and he was almost unable to complete it. I don’t want to spoil the story for you, but know that it is packed with the everything a sports adventure should have: struggle, near failure, the support of friends, and the roar of a crowd.

The race ends with Sadowski’s recognition of his “new normal.”

In many ways, however, the cycling adventure is just the beginning of Sadowski’s return to life. Through his words and stories we are left inspired, despite the loss that cancer has caused. We see his advocacy and his passion, his fears of recurrence, and his struggle to accept his limitations.

It has been a little over eight years since Sadowski’s diagnosis and surgery. “Back to Life” came out in 2015, and its clearest messages are of determination and hope.

“I feel like,” Sadowski told me. “I’m sure that the last eight years of my life have been the happiest of my life by far. I feel like I’m a much better husband, a much better father, and a much better friend to my friends because of what I’ve gone through. I literally look at the world in a different way.”

You owe it to yourself to read Frand Sadowski’s inspiring book, “Back to Life”.

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