The Blame Game

I recently had a small area of basal cell carcinoma removed. It was the first cancerous area that I’ve had in almost two years. While I was not thrilled I again had skin cancer, I was happy that (relatively speaking) it was an easy removal. After receiving a phone call from my doctor that the pathology report showed she had gotten all the cancer during the surgery and I wouldn’t have to go back for a follow up surgery, I made a post on my Facebook page with that good news. I have been sharing my skin cancer journey updates publicly on Facebook, and it felt awesome to have so many people sharing in my joy because sometimes, skin cancer feels like a really lonely cancer.

Aware of all the risk factors involved

And then came THAT message....a private message telling me I need to be staying out of the sun because that is what gave me skin cancer in the first place. Basically, telling me that having skin cancer is my own fault. Yes, I know that over exposure to the sun can cause skin cancer. And yes, I know to be sun smart. But I also know that when I was younger, we did not have the same knowledge about damaging effects of over-exposure to the sun and tanning beds that we do now. Nor did we even have decent sunscreen back then; I remember sunscreen with SPF 2 and 4. Back then, kids played outside for hours on end. There was no Xbox, no cell phone, no cable TV, and televisions only had a few channels, so playing outside was much more interesting than sitting inside! Additionally, I have a family history of skin cancer, along with traits that make me more susceptible to it: blond hair, blue eyes, freckles, and light skin tone.

Skin cancer stigma and blame

Even though I tried to let it slide, that message kept eating at me. This is not the first time I’ve heard the comment of ‘you did this to yourself’ or ‘no sympathy that you have skin cancer; you should have known better than to get so much sun.’ Why do people think it’s okay to tell someone with skin cancer that it’s their own fault? I would never dream of telling someone who had a heart attack that he probably shouldn’t have eaten so many cheeseburgers, or to tell someone who had breast cancer that there must have been something she did to have brought it on.

Raising awareness and practicing empathy

Someone with skin cancer (especially someone with recurrent skin cancer) is probably already blaming themselves. They really don’t need to be told yet again that this is their fault. Raising awareness about the dangers of skin cancer is so important, but perhaps while raising awareness, we can also raise awareness about empathy toward people who have cancer of any kind – including skin cancer.

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