From provider to survivor

One writer’s cancer experience uncovers compassionate care

Larrie meditates during his chemo treatment, which started in 2015.

Larrie Wanberg
Features Editor

As a retired health-care provider and cancer survivor, I can share good news in cancer treatment from a unique perspective.

One day, I was feeling in the prime of health, despite advancing years in my mid-80s. The next day in the ER with fever, tests led to the diagnosis of bladder cancer. Two years of comprehensive treatment followed, including state-of-the-art surgery.

This personal story is about the marvels of medicine today, although the ordeal over months of chemo, surgeries, infections, and setbacks are evident in such a journey.

For me, the outcome is ironic from my perspective as a former child therapist, often with children and adolescents on oncology wards in military hospitals—my current experience as a patient “puts the shoe on the other foot.”

As a parent, my son Lars in his 40s had surgery at the same medical center for bladder cancer and is now a survivor for over 10 years. Genetics can be a factor and is testable.

My surgical treatment was done at the University of Southern California (USC) Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center in Los Angeles, where a urology surgeon removed a section of the large bowel and constructed it as an internal bladder, called an “Indiana Pouch,” which is emptied every four to six hours by catheter through a navel port. This enables me to progressively lead a “new-normal” life of functioning while extending my life.

The manner of and ongoing relationship with my surgeon is different from surgeons I’ve known in the past—he’s personable, has plenty of time to listen and advise, and provides light humor and genuine smiles—with the results that when I leave the clinic exam room after periodic follow-ups, I’m feeling good inside me from supportive care from the doctor, nurses, and even the receptionist.

This evolving culture of patient-centered care in teaching centers carries with it the sights and sounds of “good medicine,” with emphasis on the teamwork skills of advanced medicine and the future of health care.

Earlier this month on a follow-up clinical visit, I received the good news that no new cancer was detected. The surgeon showed me the results on a digital screen from a CT scan.

“Keep active… keep writing,” he said. “Awareness of advances in bladder cancer is a principal need for the general public.” He emphasized that the available options for treatment have expanded in choices and successes, including in elderly patients like myself. I outlined with him my optimistic three-year plan for my next retirement at age 90.

We concluded that patient-centered care by a treatment team throughout the health-care delivery system is, indeed, the future—even today.

This article originally appeared in the March 24, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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Larrie Wanberg

Larrie Wanberg, 1920–2021, contributed features to The Norwegian American for many years, drawing on eight decades of life experience highlighted by three career recognitions: as a researcher through a Fulbright Scholarship to Norway in 1957; as a health care provider in behavioral science through a 27-year military career and awarded upon retirement in 1981 the highest non-combat medal, the Legion of Merit medal; as an educator, through a 50-year career in college education, culminating in the 2010 Public Scholar award at the UND Center for Community Engagement. Wanberg passed away in May, 2021.