Fitness enthusiast overcomes rare bladder cancer with help of specialists at Inova

(Originally published Oct. 19, 2016)

For years, David Blimmel trained athletes to achieve their maximum potential. A fitness enthusiast and former personal trainer, he knew a thing or two about physical and mental endurance. But when the network engineer in his mid-forties was diagnosed with an extremely rare form of bladder cancer, he took on the greatest challenge of his life.

Guided by the world-class oncology team at Inova Schar Cancer Institute, David embarked on the road to recapture his peak potential.

“The whole thing was very tough, but the team of physicians I worked with really made it a lot easier and were really helpful, not just at a doctor level but on a personal level,” says David.

Interdisciplinary Approach

When David first noticed a common urinary tract symptom — blood in the urine — he went to see his general practitioner. Given his age and the fact that he had no family history of bladder cancer, David was prescribed antibiotics to treat infection, which is the most common cause of blood in the urine.

When the symptom returned, however, David was referred to a urologist at Inova Fair Oaks Hospital. A CT scan and biopsy revealed a tumor that appeared to be invasive bladder cancer.

David’s urologist immediately referred him to medical oncologist Jeanny Aragon-Ching, MD, FACP, Clinical Program Director of Genitourinary (GU) Cancers at Schar Cancer Institute.

“Dr. Aragon-Ching was really great,” says David. “She explained everything to my wife and me, and she’s also one of the warmest doctors I’ve ever dealt with.”

The Inova GU Cancer Program offers premier services for prostate, bladder, kidney and testicular cancer. “We are establishing a group of specialists in GU cancer, each of whom is recognized on a national level for their expertise in this type of cancer and for leading clinical and translational research,” says Donald Trump, MD, FACP, CEO and Executive Director of Schar Cancer Institute.

“They are clinical investigators who lead national trials, who publish original research in high-impact journals — investigators known throughout our region and beyond. Our medical oncology, surgical and radiation oncology experts work together in order to bring the latest information and expertise to bear on each individual patient’s case.”

Highly trained specialists at the institute offer cutting-edge treatments. These include robotic surgery, CyberKnife, intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) and image-guided radiation therapy, low-dose rate (LDR) brachytherapy, as well as targeted treatments, vaccine therapy, chemotherapy and immunotherapy drugs to treat GU cancer and prevent recurrence.

“For a patient who has a diagnosis of GU cancer, whether it’s bladder, prostate, kidney or testis, the Inova Schar Cancer Institute multidisciplinary team is there to better serve the patient,” says Dr. Aragon-Ching. “We have a complete team of health professionals to really help the patients through their treatment, the diagnosis and survivorship.”

Pinpointing the Problem of a Rare Bladder Cancer

Upon reviewing David’s scan and pathology report, Dr. Aragon-Ching recognized that David had urachal cancer, an extremely rare form that affects just 1 percent of all individuals with bladder cancer. Instead of taking out the entire bladder, the team would only remove the top portion, sparing healthy tissue and normal function. Fortunately, Dr. Aragon-Ching pinpointed the diagnosis right away, allowing David to have a combination of robotic surgery and consideration for chemotherapy that would get rid of the cancer while keeping healthy tissue intact.

“One thing I am very thankful for is that Dr. Aragon-Ching and the team have the expertise and take the time to really find out what’s wrong,” says David. “When I was referred to Dr. Aragon-Ching, I was supposed to have chemo right away and then my entire bladder removed. If they had not figured out that I had this particular type of rare cancer, then I would have gone through an unnecessary surgery, more chemo and the wrong chemo cocktail.”

Since completing his chemotherapy at Inova Schar Cancer Institute, David is back to life as usual, which for him means working in a busy office, spending quality time with his wife and three daughters, working out and playing bass guitar in a local rock band.

“Inova Schar Cancer Institute is really a force to be reckoned with,” says urologist Dana Rice, MD. “The center attracts the most innovative minds in medicine, people who are interested in making a difference in the lives of our patients.”

Treatment Options for Bladder Cancer

Inova Schar Cancer Institute treats bladder cancer with the most effective, least-invasive treatments available.

“We remain at the cutting edge for diagnostics and surgical management,” says Simon Chung, MD, MPH, MBA, FACS, Medical Director, Robotic Surgery, and Urology Section Chief, Inova Fairfax Medical Campus.

“We have access to up-to-date technologies with regards to diagnostics, including endoscopy, radiology studies, lab studies and pathology. In terms of therapeutics and treatment, we have the most modern effective treatment approaches including robotic surgery, minimally invasive surgical techniques and endoscopy.”

In the realm of radiation therapy, the institute offers an exciting array of targeted treatments that can be used as stand-alone procedures or in combination with surgery or chemotherapy.

“With modern radiation technologies, procedures are becoming more and more successful with fewer complications,” says radiation oncologist Samir Kanani, MD. “With a combination of radiation and chemotherapy, many patients are able to preserve their native bladder and do not need to have their bladder removed with outcomes comparable to surgery.”

To maximize successful outcomes, the medical team offers advanced immunotherapy drugs to prevent the recurrence of cancer following treatment. “We are conducting clinical trials in novel therapeutics with vitamin D analogues as well as immunotherapy. These new approaches offer great potential for advancing our ability to care for patients with GU cancers,” says Dr. Trump.

Symptoms of Bladder Cancer

Common symptoms of bladder cancer include:

  • Blood in the urine
  • Abdominal pain
  • Fatigue
  • Painful urination
  • Frequent urination
  • Urine leakage
  • Weight loss
  • Bone pain

Schedule An Appointment

Inova Genitourinary Cancer Program

See all Inova Schar Cancer Institute locations

Leave a Comment