10 Things I Wish I Had Done Before I Was Diagnosed With Cancer

I’m convinced that nothing can fully prepare a person for the impact of a cancer diagnosis, but there are still things that I wish I had done before cancer became a part of my life. As a five-year cancer survivor I now have the wisdom of hindsight, so I’ve chosen to share my definitive list of what I wish I had accomplished when I was still healthy.


Have a Plan Regarding My Work and Income

It’s important to have a strategy in the event that you suddenly become unable to work due to illness or disability. Unfortunately I was unprepared and learned this lesson the hard way. If you’re a self-employed individual, such as a freelancer or independent contractor, you may be especially vulnerable if circumstances ever render you unable to work for the long-term.

Go Out and Experience New Things

When I was still in good health, I made too many excuses about why I couldn’t go out to events or experience new things. I’m basically an introvert and prefer to stay in, it’s for couples only, I can’t afford it, the transportation and commute are too much of a hassle were some of the issues I’d focus on when ruling out gatherings or events.

Be More Physically Active

I regret not going for long walks or spending more time outdoors in the years leading up to my cancer diagnosis. Science has essentially proven that people who are active have an advantage compared to those who don’t exercise. Active individuals tend to live longer, healthier lives than their sedentary counterparts.

Purchase a Disability Insurance Plan

This is something I really regret not taking care of and I strongly urge anyone without this type of insurance to look into a plan. The only alternative to private insurance if you suddenly become chronically ill or disabled is most often government assistance.

Listen to My Body

Ovarian cancer is sometimes called the “silent killer” because its symptoms are often subtle or mimic other less serious illnesses. It’s important to know what is normal for your body and to be alert to any changes that might indicate a problem. I wish I had been more in tune with my body and more persistent with my doctors.

Develop a Support Network

When I was diagnosed with cancer I quickly realized that my social support network is very small. Specifically, I’m single, come from a small family of origin and have few close friends. I understand that some of this isn’t under my control, but I definitely wish I had been more diligent about building a network when I was still healthy.

Pay More Attention to My Relationships

If you have conflicts in your family relationships or have simply drifted apart, I suggest you reach out to repair whatever damage might have occurred over the years. Once you are diagnosed with a chronic illness you suddenly comprehend the value of having strong bonds with family members, including your parents, spouse, siblings and children.

Be Prepared For People’s Reactions

When people learned of my cancer diagnosis their reactions sometimes caused me resentment, frustration or anger. They meant well, but I could have been more prepared for their sometimes inappropriate remarks and gestures. Many individuals are misinformed about the scientific facts surrounding cancer or don’t know how to properly reach out to a friend who has been diagnosed with the disease.

Catch Up on Things I’d Let Slide

We all have a tendency to procrastinate or push tasks and projects to the back burner. When I became ill I suddenly realized how many things were left undone and how many loose ends I should have tied up. If you have been meaning to buy some essential new pieces for your wardrobe, need new glasses or need to get your car or computer serviced, do it now!

Establish an Outlet For Anger and Grief

The universal emotions for nearly all cancer patients are anger and grief—intense anger that can border on rage and a grief that can feel like a bottomless well of despair. To maintain your emotional health you’ll need an outlet for these feelings. It might be a friend, therapist or support group, but it’s important to have someone that you can confide in without fear of judgment


The Top Six Things Not to Say to Someone With Cancer

When a friend or family member is diagnosed with cancer it’s sometimes difficult to find the right words or to be sure that you are doing the appropriate things. In this blog post I’ve chosen to address some of the most common mistakes and I make specific suggestions about how you can communicate better with someone who is going through a cancer journey.


Always permit a cancer patient to control how much medical information he or she wishes to share with you.

Remember that some patients are more private than others, so don’t pry—only discuss these matters if the patient chooses to bring them up. As a general rule don’t ask detailed questions about the diagnosis or treatment plan. Examples of inappropriate questions might include: “How many chemo sessions do you have?” and “What kind of surgery does your oncologist recommend?” Of course caregivers and close family members are almost always privy to this information. If you are in such a position, I strongly advise you not to divulge intimate details about the condition of your husband, wife, adult son or adult daughter without their specific consent. For instance, as a caregiver you probably have friends or your own support group and you may need to take some time off work. Still, it’s almost never necessary or appropriate to inform your best friend or your boss of exactly how much weight your loved one has lost or the name of the chemotherapy drugs they’ve been prescribed!

Try not to make your offers of assistance too vague.

“Can I do anything to help you?” Your overall intentions for asking a cancer patient this question are likely noble and your heart is in the right place. However, the phrasing of this question is frequently too vague or broad. The person undergoing cancer treatment is probably too overwhelmed to think of something specific, furthermore they don’t want to feel like a burden. Instead, it’s recommended that you ask if you can perform some task in particular for the person. “May I pick up some groceries for you?” or “I’d like to make you dinner tomorrow night.” are good examples of things you might want to say. Even scheduling routine appointments is difficult for an individual facing surgery or chemotherapy, so it might also be fitting to take the initiative by offering to make some telephone calls or send some e-mail messages.

Don’t give a cancer patient health advice, especially if you have never had cancer.

118184-400x265-Dandelion_Facts“Healthy people should never give cancer patients health advice,” physician and cancer survivor, Nikhil Joshi, argued in a recent Globe and Mail interview. “There’s nothing worse than being sick and getting advice from the healthy, because it’s almost like insinuating you did something to make this happen to you,” he said. I firmly agree with Joshi’s statement. It may be true in some cases that our lifestyle or health care choices increase the odds of getting cancer or contribute to cancer progression. However, if you cause someone with cancer to absorb blame and feel shame it will almost certainly make matters worse. Shame and guilt are unnecessary burdens to carry. From everything that’s known about the emotions and health, acceptance and forgiveness are what we need to cultivate and enhance healing, not self-condemnation and self-blame.

Remember every cancer journey is unique physically, psychologically and spiritually.

My situation may remind you of someone else, but telling me a story about a family member or friend who has or had cancer is simply irrelevant, and it’s especially a bad idea if it’s a fatal story. Modern medicine has essentially proven that everyone’s cancer experience is unique, even individuals with the same type, stage and grade of cancer can have radically different outcomes. Telling me about your aunt Lisa’s current third round of chemo for colon cancer won’t help me to process my diagnosis or make decisions about my own cancer treatment.

Don’t send a cancer patient newspaper articles about cancer that you’ve read or give them a basket with holistic cancer remedies in it.

If I want information regarding cancer or cancer treatment, I’ll ask for it. In the months following my cancer diagnosis I was inundated with information and advice from a medical team. Consequently, the articles from newspapers, magazines or online publications that I received were annoying. For the most part these pieces were irrelevant and unnecessary. When some acquaintances sent me ginger and dandelion root, two common homeopathic therapies for cancer, I didn’t bother to explain to them that these items are specifically mentioned on a list oncologists give to their patients. Ginger and dandelion root do not combine well with many traditional chemotherapy drugs, and therefore patients should refrain from using them during treatment.

Don’t tell someone with cancer that everything will be the same again or that everything will workout fine.

Cancer can be a terrifying experience and a diagnosis of this disease is usually a turning point that will alter a person’s life forever. I hate when people try to deny this fact or minimize it by giving me false reassurance. The truth is I don’t know if I’m going to be fine, you don’t know if I’m going to be fine, even my oncologist doesn’t know for sure if I’m going to be fine. Instead, I feel comforted when people use phrases like “I believe in you.” or “I’m pulling for you.”