Going toe-to-toe with bladder cancer
Baptist MD Anderson patient keeps punching to knock out his unexpected diagnosis.
Like Rocky Balboa amping himself up before a boxing match, Steven Cantor listened to “Eye of the Tiger” on repeat as he prepared for his own greatest challenge.
The enemy Cantor faced was not an undefeated heavyweight champion, but his own body. And his ring? Not the four-cornered platform where boxers go toe-to-toe, but the Baptist MD Anderson Chemotherapy Infusion Center.
In May of this year, Cantor received a life-changing diagnosis he thought he’d never hear at 46 years old: bladder cancer.
“I’m going to beat this,” he told his friends and family. “I hope everybody is in the ring with me.”
And, boy, they have been.
His friends and family took his fighting words seriously. They showed up in groups of six or seven to sit with Cantor while he received chemo treatment. The Baptist MD Anderson (BMDA) Cancer Center only allows two visitors at a time – and so many of Cantor’s friends waited in the lobby to take their turn at his side
Over the course of six rounds of chemo, Cantor’s gatherings at Baptist MD Anderson’s San Marco facility became known as “In the Ring with Steve.”
Always in his corner is Cantor’s wife, Baptist Health clinical epidemiologist Robyn Kay.
“Any time you hear the word cancer, all the horrific things go through your head,” she said. “Hearing the diagnosis and knowing what would come next — given my experiences in health care — was very scary. We didn’t know what path we would take or what that journey would be like.”
Now that Cantor has knocked out chemotherapy and surgery, and is completing six months of immunotherapy, he takes each day and each treatment as they come.
But, some blows in life definitely hit harder than others.
After surgery, Cantor’s initial stage 2 diagnosis was bumped up to stage 4. Kay said the couple expected the result, but it was still hard to hear.
Cantor isn’t letting it shake him.
“I don’t want to hear percentages. I don’t want to hear numbers,” he said. “I’m not one of those. There are a lot of unknowns right now, but I know I’m going to beat this.”
Nothing in Cantor’s environment or background explains the symptoms he started to experience in mid-2017.
For the last 18 years, he owned and operated a pet-boarding facility off Beach Boulevard, and just this year, he opened a pet spa. In his free time, he watched football with his 6-year-old son, Shane, who just finished his first season of flag football.
Cantor worked out regularly and did CrossFit. He didn’t smoke but maybe ate a bit too much red meat.
At first, he spotted a little blood in his urine, but didn’t really think much of it. That symptom could come with a range of issues. He planned to make an appointment. Then, a couple days later, Cantor woke up unable to go to the bathroom.
Immediately, he went to the emergency room, and was told to follow up with an urologist. Suddenly, his life hit fast forward.
At Baptist Medical Center South, an urologist scoped his bladder and saw something on the camera. Then came a transurethral resection of the bladder, which is often used as a diagnostic tool and involves removing either part or all of a tumor.
Cantor was then referred to Baptist MD Anderson Cancer Center where he met with Seth Strope, MD, a urologic oncologist, and Robert Zaiden, MD, a hematologist/oncologist. After a consultation with Drs. Zaiden and Strope, Cantor decided on chemotherapy prior to his surgery to remove the remainder of the tumor.
“Muscle invasive bladder cancer requires an intensive treatment regimen with chemotherapy and surgery,” Dr. Strope said. “Mr. Cantor has met these challenges with great strength and an incredible attitude.”
That attitude, Cantor said, carried him through the grueling weeks of chemotherapy.
“I feel great now,” he said. “I changed my eating habits. I’ve started lifting weights, biking.”
Cantor was selected by Jacksonville Jaguar AJ Bouye to preview the design he selected for the 2017 NFL’s “My Cause, My Cleats,” which gives players across the country the chance to showcase causes important to them. Proceeds from Bouye’s cleats will benefit the American Cancer Society. As part of the charity event, Cantor and Shane attended the Jaguars game against the Indianapolis Colts.
The Jaguars, the NFL and the American Cancer Society have arranged for Cantor and his son to have an all-expenses paid trip to the Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis.
Over the months of his treatment, Cantor and Kay have worked hard to keep Shane’s life normal. After all, how do you explain cancer to a child that young, Cantor and Kay asked themselves. They certainly haven’t excluded him, though.
Robyn Kay taught Shane how to help care for his father when he needs extra assistance.
“Dr. Zaiden and Dr. Strope and the rest of the team at Baptist MD Anderson have been amazing,” Kay said. “We put a lot of trust in both of them to get us through this, and everybody has been so positive.”
Cantor feels good about his future. He now bears the tattooed image of a bull — his astrology sign — entwined with the bladder cancer awareness ribbon.
The image reminds him, just like his favorite quote from Rocky, “It ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.”
For more information on Baptist MD Anderson, go to baptistmdanderson.com.