Things I Wish I Knew About Cancer.....Before I Got Cancer

by Brian English

Cancer. You’ve been there, done that. And you’ve got the scars (physical and emotional) to prove it. Along the way, you’ve learned a lot. About yourself. About your friends and loved ones. About, well … life in general. And that’s some hard-won knowledge.

Things I Wish I Knew About Cancer Before I Got Cancer

Wouldn’t it have been nice to at least had a preview of these experiences? It may not have made things any less scary or intimidating, but at least you would have been ready, you could have girded yourself for what was to come.

At WhatNext, we see our website as a valuable tool for everyone living with cancer, so at times we like to ask our veteran members to share their experiences in the hopes that the newly diagnosed people who come to our site can benefit from the insights of patients who’ve already traveled this path.

Here’s what members of our community said were the things they wished someone had told them to do, expect, or prepare themselves for when they began their cancer journey.

Always Get a Second Opinion. Always

This is one piece of advice that popped up in multiple responses from WhatNexters. Remember: as a patient, this is your prerogative. So don’t be shy. 

Second Opinion Dot Physical

Cancer is, to make a gross understatement, a big deal. And you’ll want to be sure that you’ve surrounded the problem from all angles before choosing a course of treatment. Because there can be more than one option, and it makes a difference. You’ll also want to be sure that you weren’t diagnosed. If you get two opinions that differ, don’t be afraid to get a third.

You’ll Be Afraid. And that’s OK

Cancer is scary. It’s that simple. So if you’re scared, it’s a very human and incredibly normal reaction. Just don’t allow the fear to consume you.

“You’ll need distractions. Music and sleep will probably be the ones you resort to most,” writes Huffington Post blogger Jeff Tomczek. “You will feel normal eventually. Just a new kind of normal. When you feel afraid let yourself lean on those around you. Cry. Be vulnerable. You are vulnerable.”

Not only will you be afraid, but it will be assumed by those around you that you’re afraid on a ’round-the-clock basis.

“Everyone you deal with will expect you to be scared out of your mind,” writes WhatNexter Anniekell. “Remember that fear is a state of heightened awareness; embrace the awareness.”

And you won’t be the only one that’s afraid – the ones you love are just as scared as you are. Their world is getting rocked, too. The stress. The worry. It will take its toll. And the ones that are closest to you will show the strain – they’ll lose weight and look worn down without the help of a single chemo session. So be scared together. Cry together. It will feel good.

Be Your Own Advocate

You can’t just put yourself in the hands of your doctor and leave it at that. You need to become an expert on your disease. And you need to speak up. Loudly, if necessary.

“Don’t be afraid to say ‘no,’ ” says Anniekell. “You don't have to agree to anything and you can change your mind. It helps immensely if you know your own limits and are willing to advocate for yourself.”

You need to do your research. “There are a lot of “it depends, every patient is different” answers when it comes to the effects of cancer treatments,” writes cancer survivor David Rascusin on the blog I Had Cancer. “Take the time to read through the materials your medical team provides.” And you’ll likely want to go beyond those pamphlets and hit the Internet – and sites like WhatNext.

Be educated and know what questions to ask – and never be afraid to ask them.

Be Skeptical

“Don’t believe everything you read or hear,” writes WhatNexter LiveWithCancer. It’s succinct, simple, and important advice. Since you’ll be hitting the Internet to hunt down more information about your disease, be sure to be skeptical of what you read (or rumors that you hear during treatment); you can’t believe everything.

Find a Doctor You Like

You’ll be spending a lot of time with your doctor and your care team. So choose wisely.

“Being best friends with your doctor is not required. You don’t even have to like your doctor,” writes Huffington Post blogger Robyn Stoller. “But you do have to trust their care and feel comfortable talking to them about anything related to your health. If you don’t, find a new doctor immediately.”


It’s succinct, simple, and important advice. Since you’ll be hitting the Internet to hunt down more information about your disease, be sure to be skeptical of what you read (or rumors that you hear during treatment); you can’t believe everything.

Be Prepared for a Wide Range of Reactions and Comments

“The way other people react to your diagnosis is more about them than about you,”  writes Anniekell. And it’s true.

During the course of your cancer journey, you will surely encounter people some fascinating reactions – not all of them positive. Cancer makes people very uncomfortable and severely tests their ability to handle what they see as an awkward situation.

Blog What Did You Just Say

Some people will treat you like cancer is contagious. Some people will be inspired by you. Others will say amazingly insensitive or insulting things (often both at the same time). Some will assume that every time they see you will be the last time. Your relationships will change. Your perception of people you’ve known for years can also change – and not always for the better. For the patient, it can get … interesting.

This is just a sampling of the things that patients which they’d known about cancer. If you have another experience you’d like to share, tell the WhatNext community about it on our forum.

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