A woman with a sad expression is surrounded by dark clouds.

Blaming the Patient for Having Skin Cancer

You say you’re not surprised -
That I should have seen it coming.
You say I got what I deserved
And you won’t listen to what I try to say.

You tell me you don’t feel sorry for me –
That I did this to myself.
You brush it off as attention-seeking
And don’t want to hear me talk about it.

You try to make me feel as if I’m over-reacting.
But what if this happens to you?

Blamed for having skin cancer

Until I was diagnosed with skin cancer, I never imagined that people would blame someone for a condition that person has. But people do, and every time someone let me know they thought I caused my skin cancer, it surprised me. In reality, I didn’t do anything different than many other people have done. So why did I give myself skin cancer and others didn’t?

Yes, skin cancer can be prevented

Yes, skin cancer can largely be prevented. Yes, I spent a lot of time in the sun when I was a kid, playing outdoors all day. I’m in my mid-50’s, and when I was a child, sunscreen wasn’t widely used. Our sunscreen was actually suntan lotion of SPF 2 or 4. (If you’re old enough, you may remember the Coppertone baby.)

Sun protection wasn't part of the conversation

I honestly cannot recall a single advertisement or article regarding sun protection or sun awareness as I was growing up. I do remember stores selling the silver reflective blankets that we would lay out on for hours, after slathering on the baby oil. I also remember when tanning beds were introduced. They were touted as being safer than lying in the sun (which definitely was not true). I wasn’t a heavy user of tanning beds, but I did go to them before vacations to get a ‘base tan.’

I was shocked

When I was first diagnosed with skin cancer by a dermatologist, I was shocked to get the diagnosis. The doctor had no empathy, compassion, or even a hint of kindness in his voice when he said “you have cancer.” Those words shook me, as I was not expecting to hear that.

There's a way to say it

I had a different doctor perform the surgery to remove my skin cancer, and as he stitched me up he told me that my skin cancer was caused by my laying out and excessive sun exposure when I was younger. The damage I had done to my skin then was showing up years later. He was kind, and thankfully he didn’t say this in an accusatory way.

People blamed me for my skin cancer

When I was diagnosed a second time with skin cancer, I knew this was serious business. Another surgery was performed, this time to remove several places. After this surgery, I started talking more about my skin cancer to others, and that’s when the blame game started. People’s reactions of “what did you expect – you did this to yourself” took me by surprise.

I never thought about skin cancer

Then again, I didn’t even take skin cancer seriously until my second diagnosis. In fact, I had never even thought about skin cancer until I was diagnosed with it. After the initial shock of hearing those words from some of my friends and family members, I wondered if they too didn’t really know how serious skin cancer can be. They may have no idea about the anxiety brought on by visits to the dermatologist, the biopsies, the waiting for test results, and the surgeries. And unfortunately, I didn’t think they would really ‘get’ it unless it happened to them.

No one deserves skin cancer or blame

I’ve now had skin cancer for over 25 years. I’ve had numerous surgeries to remove cancerous areas, including a couple of major surgeries (during one of them, I had 23 places removed). I still at times receive comments blaming me for my skin cancer, but I choose to do my best to react with grace, and hopefully find a way to use that as a situation to help spread awareness about skin cancer. I don’t want others to have to go through what I’ve been through - not the skin cancer, and not the blame.

Have you been blamed for your skin cancer diagnosis?

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