Felix (Phil) Sanchez: Offering Comfort and Insight to Fellow Patients

“I follow up with people and act as a mentor. I let them know they are able to contact me at any time, and I can offer them peace of mind from someone who has been where they are headed.”
‐Felix (Phil) Sanchez

I love to golf and travel with my wife of 37 years, Barbara. In 2016, in an effort to stay fit, I was exercising quite a bit. I was making sure to keep hydrated, which included drinking a lot of red Gatorade. Because of this, I didn’t think anything of it when I first noticed my urine was red. However, it didn’t take long for me to realize something wasn’t right, and it turned out that the red I was seeing was blood. My primary care doctor referred me to a urologist, who performed a biopsy and diagnosed me with bladder cancer. I started BCG treatment (Bacillus Calmette-Guerin, which is the most common intravesical immunotherapy treatment for early-stage non-muscle invasive bladder cancer) immediately; but, six months later, I learned that the treatments weren’t working. My nephew, a physician in Ohio, urged me to go to Fox Chase after his colleagues recommended I contact Urologic Oncologist Robert Uzzo, MD, MBA, FACS.

From the minute I met Dr. Uzzo, I knew I was going to beat this cancer. He immediately performed a biopsy to confirm my bladder cancer diagnosis and gather more information. Because BCG proved unsuccessful, I enrolled in a clinical trial of KEYTRUDA, another immunotherapy treatment. Unfortunately, the treatment did not work for me, but I never felt nervous. I knew that Dr. Uzzo and my team at Fox Chase had a plan, and I was confident that there would be another option.

Dr. Uzzo was worried that if the cancer metastasized beyond the bladder, I would have even bigger issues to face. Because of this, he recommended looking into surgical options. After considering the options with my wife, Dr. Uzzo, and my nephew, we decided to remove the bladder and opt for an ileal neobladder (which is a new bladder created from parts of the small intestine). This option is unique and not offered at many centers, so I was very grateful to be at Fox Chase.

A New Challenge

Phil Sanchez on the golf course.

After my bladder removal surgery, I didn’t need any additional treatment. The main challenge with the neobladder was having to relearn how to use it. Dr. Uzzo and Sue Burke, BSN, RN, OCN, walked me through Kegel exercises so I could retrain my muscles and, over time, exercise better bladder control. I returned to work four months after my procedure, gained full bladder control in 8–10 months, and now feel like myself again.

My bladder is working great and I am back to doing the things I love, including playing golf. I had taken a break from it for a couple of years while going through my treatments; my first time back, I had the best game of my life!

Guiding Others Through Familiar Territory

My experience was difficult at times, but the results have been incredible. Dr. Uzzo made my wife and me feel so comfortable, and I wanted to offer that same comfort to others facing something similar. When I learned that Fox Chase offered a program that connected experienced and new patients, I decided to get involved. I completed my training classes to be a mentor for the Patient-to-Patient Network (P2PN) and was certified earlier this year. I have spoken to four patients now, listening to their stories and sharing my experiences to support them. I keep in touch with these patients and I am always available if they want to talk or need advice.

I still see Dr. Uzzo every six months to check in, and I always love our visits. My wife and I look forward to traveling again. No matter what happens, I am just happy to be alive and able to help others who are facing the same tough circumstances I did.

Learn more about bladder cancer treatment at Fox Chase.