Together we will beat cancerDonate
Everyone’s journey through cancer is different.
Here we try to portray the experience through the words of those who know it best.
This article has been drawn together from the memories, reflections and stories that patients have shared with us.
By sharing these stories, we hope to show a little of what it can be like to go through cancer.
Knowing what’s normal for your body means you’re more likely to recognise something different.
Julia first noticed a pain in her breast. "Like a period pain," she recalls.
"I used to wake up every morning with really bad headaches."
"I discovered a lump in my right breast."
"I started to notice my tongue was stinging. Then I felt a lump the size of a small grape."
"I first noticed a swelling under my arm, then a hard lump in my breast. I immediately thought the worst."
"During my first examination, doc said the ear drum was bulging & found a swollen lump in my neck. I started to worry…"
"After her bath I noticed her tummy felt firm as I was blowing raspberries on it."
"My GP and I both thought my symptoms were likely to be a peptic ulcer […] How wrong we were!"
When Clive noticed blood in his stool he thought "It will go away. It will sort itself out."
The first I knew about any problem was the abnormal result of a routine blood test.
See your doctor if you notice a change which isn’t normal for you, or doesn’t go away on its own.
"I was prepared with pen and paper as advised!"
"I was starting to worry at this point that it could be something bad"
"I remember being chaperoned everywhere; everything moved quickly and a nurse wouldn’t let us out of her sight"
"I was embarrassed and nervous that I might be overreacting and wasting the doctor's time."
"It was a bewildering experience."
Only a minority of patients referred for tests go on to be diagnosed with cancer.
I went not expecting bad news. The doctor told me he would like to do an ultrasound to tell me what the situation was.
"Ok, colposcopy done! It wasn't pleasant, but not as bad as expected"
"I realised that this was a life-changing moment. I didn't feel scared - simply numb"
"For some reason I knew then it was going to be cancer, not sure why, but I just had the feeling"
"By the time I had a hospital referral it was pretty obvious from my GPs reaction that there was a serious problem."
"You leave your dignity outside because you lose it when they take the biopsies."
“We recommend that by 2020, 95 per cent of patients referred for testing by a GP are definitively diagnosed within four weeks” - England's Cancer Strategy, 2015
"The waiting is the worst, I feel like I am on hold again whilst the world is moving round me"
"Those two weeks seemed to take forever"
"This was Hell on Earth for me and my family - hoping for the best and fearing the worst"
"I found it agonising. I just wanted something doing - I kept thinking, it's 6 weeks on and it's still growing."
"I just functioned while waiting for the results, I told no one and avoided people for two weeks."
That was the worst part of the whole experience and I tried to prepare myself and my family for very bad news.
One in two people will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lifetime.
Well that's it then, I've had it.
"Cancer was the only thing I heard and nothing else after that"
"Is he going to die?"
"I just sat there and laughed"
"I had done nothing wrong yet I seemed to be getting punished"
“The diagnosis was a huge shock to me and my family. I had no symptoms or health issues to speak of."
"The world seemed to stop for a few minutes and although my consultant kept on talking"
"I went home feeling absolutely numb"
“When I heard the word ‘cancer’ I was in state of total disbelief, I thought they had made a mistake."
“When you’re young you just don’t expect to hear the word cancer”
Talking about cancer can be hard.
"I told my family the next day, in that moment I admitted it to myself."
"I feel completely lost at the moment. I haven't even told my children yet because I don't know what to tell them"
"I posted the news on Facebook."
"I could hardly get the words out before I started crying."
"I told him I had just been given some bad news and I couldn’t say anything else. I literally just broke down"
There is no right or wrong way to feel.
"There has to be a mistake. I need to see another doctor"
"This isn’t fair, I’m 20 years old, I don’t want to have to take medication for the rest of my life"
"I grieved for the person I was before diagnosis, because I think it has changed me"
"All I could ask is why. I used to plan my life in decades, now I plan it in months."
"I have planned my own funeral"
"I thought I'd be angry. But I'm not. I just find myself wishing, every single day, that things were different."
"Acceptance was gradual and came as I learnt more about my condition and understood my situation."
Surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy are the most common treatments for cancer.
For some people the effects are mild. Sometimes the side effects of chemotherapy can be unpleasant, but most side effects are short term.
"Other than feeling nauseous I didn’t have any side effects at all"
"I swore I could see her stomach shrinking before my eyes at every nappy change"
"They used words like 'gruelling' so am under no illusion what I'm in for… "
"I was really lucky, because as soon as they found it I was booked me into an operation straight away"
"You can’t function. I was uncomfortable in my own skin – it felt like my body was not my own."
Radiotherapy destroys cancer cells using radiation aimed at a cancer from a machine.
"The radiotherapy team were wonderful, they were understanding and helped me through a very intense time for me."
“You can end up craving chemo – at first you hate it but then you come to need it and you feel lost when you stop."
"The first day [of the trial] was nerve wracking because it was a bit of an unknown."
"If this is hurting me so much, it must be hurting the cancer more. But I obviously wanted the side effects to end"
"A Nina Simone piano riff uses the same notes as the alert on a chemo pump. I can't listen to it anymore." - John
There are more than 2 million people living with cancer in the UK.
"Row row row your boat..."
“When you are terminal and then the treatments end, you are on your own. It's scary. There's a big dark cloud above me."
"There’s that guilt that throws you down again. I’ve survived but so many other people haven’t"
"Having survived cancer you still live with cancer every day […] you can’t ever escape that"
"Yes I beat you cancer, you’re nothing!"
“The first few days/weeks/months are hard but I found just getting on with it, not thinking about it, is the best way"
"When you do get given the all clear it’s a bit of an anti-climax"
"My biggest fear is the possibility of secondary cancer"
"It was like life had been reset, I was a new person"
"I pretend I’m fine but I’m not – I feel like I’m about 80"
"I now know I won’t beat the disease and that my time is very limited"
"My life is pretty much back to normal now, apart from a lisp and a bit of a stiff neck"
Right now, countless people across the UK are coming to terms with a cancer diagnosis, going through treatment or coping with the loss of a loved one.
"I’m so grateful to get my life back"
"I feel very alone and frightened"
"I feel like I’ve been given a second chance at life"
"I have a different outlook on life now because every day counts"
"I’m so worried it will come back, it will destroy my life"
"I will be taking nothing with me but memories of this incredible world and the people I've known"
“I feel pretty much the same as before I was ill”
"I feel very lucky to be here. I don't want to sound odd, but I feel slightly guilty. Does that make sense?"
"Looking into the abyss and confronting your own mortality can be more than a little sobering"
"I have the will to live, but I can’t do it without help"
“The trial for Poppy has enabled her to be a normal healthy child. Without that who knows what position we would be in"