By heatherericksonauthor.comThe Erickson Family

Caught Off Guard by Cancer

caught off guard by cancer

How can you avoid being caught off guard by cancer? No one expects to be diagnosed with cancer. But there are ways to lower your risk. You can also arm yourself with information on how to handle a crisis like cancer so that if you or a loved one does face this disease, you don’t feel completely powerless.

Cancer is a lot like a C-Section

When I was pregnant with my daughter, Summer, I ate up every prenatal class with all of the excitement and anticipation you would expect from someone expecting their first child. I was determined to do everything right. So, I paid close attention as the instructor gave each new lesson, even when they taught us the breathing technique that you always see in the movies. But when the instructor began talking about c-sections, I mentally checked out. I can’t explain it, I just assumed that since I was a healthy young woman with a healthy baby, I would have a normal pregnancy, including a normal labor and delivery. Why would I take in unnecessary information?

So, I was stunned when after 3 days of labor, the doctor told me that I would have an emergency c-section on June 29. 1998, How could that be happening? I searched my memory for the information they tried to teach me in that class, but it wasn’t there.

So, it was a frightening experience. Recovering from the surgery was painful and took much longer than I had planned. To top it all off, I felt guilty as if I had somehow failed. If I had paid attention to the birthing class, I probably would have known that nearly one in three births are delivered via cesarean. Maybe then, I wouldn’t have been so hard on myself.

Caught off Guard by Cancer

15 years later, doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. He was too young to have cancer. We were too happy. Didn’t only smokers get lung cancer? The whirlwind of the diagnosis and subsequent treatment left us little time and energy to process what was happening. We had to guess at what to say to the kids and how to help them through the realization that their dad had cancer.

When you’re caught off guard by cancer you don’t have a chance to get your bearings before you lose your balance. It seemed everyone was telling us what we should do, even though most of them had never been in our position (people who had, respected our feelings and choices without judgment). We felt very much out of our element, without any good mentors.

Why would anyone want to learn about cancer?

Half of all men and a third of all women will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. If you don’t already know someone who has cancer, you will. Will you be caught off guard by cancer?

Are you at risk?

  • Talk to your doctor about your risk factors for cancer.
  • Follow a healthy eating plan and maintain a healthy weight.
  • Limit or avoid alcohol, altogether.
  • Protect your skin from UV rays.
  • Early detection is key.
  • Know your family history and risks.
  • Avoid environmental carcinogens such as tobacco, radon, asbestos, and other chemicals.
  • Ask about cancer screenings such as mammograms, skin checks, colonoscopies, PAP test, and other screenings.
  • If you have a health complaint-don’t ignore it.


I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!


In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on

Also, check out Facing Cancer as a Parent: Helping Your Children Cope with Your Cancer.

Also, put your memories into words with The Memory Maker’s Journal.

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker

Have any questions or comments? I would love to hear from you! By commenting, you agree to the terms of my privacy policy.

2 comments on “Caught Off Guard by Cancer

Deborah Weber

I think you’re right Heather that it’s helpful to be aware and educated, and I’m sure that makes a big difference. But one of things I think is most challenging about a cancer diagnosis is the pressure to make quick decisions about treatment. It’s not that I don’t appreciate that there may be some urgency involved, but rather when you have to move quickly into logical thought processes without adequate chance to integrate the emotional implications, it creates chaos for both the mental and emotional bodies, and moves one into overwhelm from the get-go. I just don’t think there’s a way to prepare for that.


Hi Deborah. Thank you so much for making this very important point. You are so right! After 5 years, and all sorts of things throwing us for loop after loop, we have decided that those first 3 months are the worst. Everything is new. You have to learn so many things. And while you are trying to make decisions, you have a hundred different voice from every direction telling you (not just recommending) what you should do. Even if you thought you would do things a certain way should something like this happen, you likely feel different when faced with the actual reality of it. It’s a process to be sure. After a time, you do settle into it, though. I neglected to mention in this post that having a health care directive is important. That was something that seemed very overwhelming to deal with in the emotions of those early days, yet it was so important to begin talking about those things. If we had created a directive prior to his diagnosis, it would have been one less thing to think about. As far as the emotional overwhelm, as you said, there is no way to prepare for that.

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