An ex-professional basketball player has told of his shock at being diagnosed with stage four cancer that began with flu-like symptoms.

Will Wise, 30, originally from Philadelphia, US, but now living in London, had played basketball professionally for seven years before moving to Britain and felt ‘invincible’ because he kept his fitness levels up.

But while commuting from the gym to work one morning, the recruitment consultant began ‘sweating profusely’ on the tube. A headache then set in.

He initially dismissed his symptoms, believing that he had simply overdone it during a workout – but the truth was far more sinister.

After arriving at work, he began vomiting blood and was rushed to hospital where tests revealed he had stage-four thyroid cancer and a separate cancerous tumour in his adrenal gland.

Before that morning in November, Mr Wise claimed he never had anything ‘majorly wrong’ and didn’t have any symptoms of cancer.

Will Wise, 30, originally from Philadelphia, US, but now living in London  had stayed fit playing basketball professionally for seven years and continued to keep his fitness up ever since, until is ‘shock’ cancer diagnosis in 2022

Doctors diagnosed Mr Wise with a pheochromocytoma – a tumour of the adrenal gland– which produces an abnormal amount of adrenaline

Mr Wise had gone to the gym on November 28, 2022 and afterwards went for a run, before showering and making his way to work.

‘I’m about 6’9″ and I’m a former professional basketball player…[so] me getting up, doing runs, going to the gym, it’s very normal — it’s nothing out of the ordinary,’ Mr Wise said. 

But this time he started sweating profusely after his workout.

Although at first he thought nothing of it and convinced himself it was ‘normal’, he quickly started to become breathless and developed a pulsing headache.

Recalling the incident, he said: ‘I just think it’s because of my regimen of working out, and sometimes pushing it too hard. 

Phaeochromocytoma: What is it and what are the symptoms? 

A phaeochromocytoma is a rare tumour of the adrenal glands, which sit above the kidneys.

This type of tumour is usually found in adults, but children can sometimes develop one.

It will usually be non-cancerous (benign), although around 1 in 10 are cancerous (malignant).

It can usually be removed in surgery.

The adrenal glands make several important hormones, these are released into the bloodstream when needed to control heart rate, blood pressure and metabolism. 

A tumour here can cause the glands to over produce these hormones causing problems with your heart and blood pressure. 

Symptoms of phaeochromocytoma:

  • Headaches
  • Heavy sweating
  • Heart palpitations
  • High blood pressure
  • A pale face
  • Feeling or being sick
  • Feeling anxious 
  • Shakiness
  • Some people do not have any symptoms before diagnosis. 

The tumour can occur for no obvious reason, but one in three cases occur as part of an inherited genetic disorder.

Source: NHS 

‘When I get them [headaches], I normally just chill, take a moment, breathe and I can calm myself down — but this time I couldn’t.’

Managing to make his way to work, he sat in the stairwell in hope that his symptoms would ease before going in to the office. 

By this point his shirt was completely soaked in sweat. 

Colleagues came to help Mr Wise, who shortly afterwards starting vomiting blood and was rushed into hospital. 

There he was given the news that his organs were failing. 

He said: ‘It was such a whirlwind because I literally never get sick, and I’m always in the best shape so it was mind-blowing. It went from zero to 100.’

Doctors diagnosed him with a pheochromocytoma — a rare tumour of the adrenal glands, which sit above the kidneys.

While nine in 10 cases are non-cancerous, test results a few months later revealed that Mr Wise had a malignant version.

Symptoms are unpredictable but typically occur in sudden attacks that can cause headaches, heavy sweating, vomiting and heart palpitations. In extreme cases, they can last up to an hour.

He was also diagnosed in January 2023 with stage-four medullary thyroid cancer because of a rare condition that he never knew he had. The tumour is located in the neck, which can make it difficult to swallow and breathe.

Over the next few months, Mr Wise had surgeries to remove the tumours located in his adrenal, thyroid and parathyroid glands, as well as 65 lymph nodes. 

Next, doctors will be tackling the lumps on his liver before planning further treatments, such as chemotherapy. 

Recalling his initial diagnosis, Mr Wise said: ‘It was a shock and scary, especially at such a young age when you’re feeling invincible.

‘In the actual moment of the diagnosis, I went numb for a few moments, it was like the world just stopped.’

Despite this huge strain on his health, Mr Wise has kept a positive outlook and documented his cancer journey on social media.

He said: ‘There is a moment when you are like “what do I do now?”

To change the stigma around cancer in the UK Mr Wise kickstarted the ‘CancerBae’ movement, where he aims to connect with and support other people living with cancer. He has also kept a positive outlook and documenting his cancer journey on social media

‘Understanding that in reality life goes on, even with scary words like “cancer” and “stage four”, you realise that you have to keep moving. 

‘Although it is difficult, I try to stay positive and upbeat.’

To challenge the stigma around cancer, he kickstarted the ‘CancerBae’ movement, where he aims to connect with and support other people living with cancer.

Mr Wise has set up a GoFundMe page with a goal of raising £15,000 to launch ‘CancerBae’ as a charity and set up a community for people living with cancer and rare genetic diseases. It has so far raised £2,000.

He said his diagnoses taught him to ‘make the most of life’ because ‘nothing is promised’ and ‘life is short’. 

Mr Wise said: ‘It’s a sad truth that we often take things for granted and don’t realise how precious life is until we experience something like this — but it’s a lesson that we’ll carry with us for the rest of our lives.’

He added: ‘I’ve learned to say yes to new experiences, to take risks and to step out of our comfort zones.

‘I’ve also learned to appreciate the small things in life and to find joy in everyday moments. 

‘This experience has taught me to live life to the fullest. 

‘I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but I can make the most of today.’

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