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What To Expect When You’re Not Expecting Cancer

by Sheena Harris-WilliamsPatient, Neuroendocrine CancerJanuary 11, 2022View more posts from Sheena Harris-Williams

Dear self that walked into the ER with abdominal pains not expecting the outcome to be cancer: 

First, I need you to take a deep breath. Exhale. Take another deep breath. Exhale. You can repeat this step as many times as you need to calm your anxiety and stop your body from trembling in fear. I know this is a major blow for you. Your mind is swirling with so many questions. Is this really happening? What type of cancer is this? What stage is it? Are they sure? Is there another doctor I can talk to? How much time do I have left? Will I make it to see my birthday, my anniversary, Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc.? Will I live to see another year?

As hard as it might seem, erase all of the negative connotations you have about cancer from your mind. Cancer is scary in general, but when it crosses your path, it’s petrifying. I know. I understand. I want you to repeat after me: cancer does NOT have to be a death sentence. Will it change your life? Yes, but you’re not going to die tomorrow. We live in a time where much research has been done and there are a number of tests, treatments and surgeries available to help you. And with that being said, that leads us to my second point: you cannot assume your cancer journey is going to mirror the same experiences and outcomes your close family members and friends had when they were battling cancer. Forget about that time a friend told you about their cousin’s aunt’s husband having cancer…and oh, he died. I’ll get into more detail about that later, but right now just remember: your cancer, your body, your journey.

You’re about to have a lot of information thrown at you and fast. The doctors are going to be telling you everything you want to know and don’t want to know about your cancer. And it’s totally normal for your brain to shut down after hearing the word ‘cancer’. Take it all in at your pace. Cancer is a process, and you have to make the best decisions possible with a clear mind. 

If you can, have a trusted loved one help you come up with questions for the doctor. Write them down or put them in your phone. And maybe take it a step further: get your questions to the doctor beforehand so they know what your questions and concerns are going into the appointment. If that loved one can come to the appointment with you, bring them. Tell him or her what you need from them during the appointment. Do you want them to sit and listen? Take notes? Do you want them to be an active participant in speaking with the doctor? Also, if the doctor is not speaking in terms you understand, let them know. Have them slow down. Make them speak on your level. They can’t expect you to become a trained oncologist overnight and understand all of their medical terminology. The more you understand, the better you will feel in your decision making. Remember: your cancer, your body, your journey.

And when it comes to your cancer, your body, your journey, pick and choose who you want to come along on this journey with you. It’s physically and emotionally draining. Please do your best to keep positive, well-meaning people around you. Keep people around who make you feel whole and bring some remanence of joy to your world. Trust me. On days you are at your lowest, those people can make a world of difference.

The people who are negative and thrive off of drama only add to the endless amount of pain and mental anguish you are already going through. You cannot afford that in your life. It does absolutely nothing to positively impact your health. So share the news of your diagnosis with who you want to. You’re not obligated to scream it on the mountaintop. It does not have to be Facebook or Instagram official. It’s your news and your news alone to share.

Now let’s talk about all those well-meaning family and friends who, when they find out about your cancer diagnosis, have vitamins and diet plans that are going to cure you. Think about it… if these things cured cancer, why are we still living in a world full of cancer? Yes, some of these vitamins and dietary changes may help you, but they aren’t going to be the end-all be-all cure to your cancer. And please, before you start taking any supplements, do your own research on them and ask your doctor if they can negatively impact your treatment.

Lastly, and probably most important, connect with yourself. And reconnect with yourself every day on some level. Do it multiple times a day if you need to. Figure out what you need to do to mentally and physically get through the day. Find ways to release those feelings. It could be as simple as taking a walk and taking in nature’s beauty. It could be sitting at a table and writing it down. You may find release in doing yoga or putting paint to a canvas. Whatever you need to do to work through your feelings, grief, pain, etc. Consider building a sense of community with fellow cancer patients. Look for social media groups or organizations you can join to help. You may find that talking to people going through similar experiences can be your greatest ally.

Whatever you do, do not give up!


Your cancer friend

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