alt=two overlapping speech bubbles with a man talking over a woman, blaming the victim

Don't Blame the Victim

I’m not the kind of person who puts everything on Facebook, but, in need of a lot of support, I recently posted this: “Shingles! All up and down my left arm and on my back!” And then a frowny face emoji and the check-in: Feeling terrible. After people asked if I had gotten the vaccine, I added: I’m answering what people asked that I should have put on top. I got one dose of the vaccine and was about to get a second. I am now taking Valtrex, the antiviral horse pill. As expected, the support poured in, along with offers of going to the grocery store and ideas about how to feel better.

According to her, it was my fault

Then there was this, from a cousin no less: “So sorry… I’d heard it is terrible so as soon as we were eligible we got the complete vaccination set. Too bad you weren’t more proactive. Sounds like you’re getting some good advice from friends.”

Now, there was a reason I had only gotten the first shot. It had to do with my health history as a leukemia patient and already on Valtrex for reasons that were too complicated to explain. The Shingrix shot would have been a duplicate due to being too close in composition. I had to wait to get off Valtrex before I got the shot. This put me behind others who had gotten both.

But even if I had gotten NO shots, the comment, “Too bad you weren’t more proactive,” was so obnoxious that it made my skin crawl even more than it already was.

Blaming the skin cancer patient

Besides having to do with skin, you might wonder why I am writing about this on a skin cancer site. It’s because my friend’s comment amounted to blaming the victim, and it’s something you don’t want to do if someone has gotten skin cancer due to spending too much time in the sun. I know that spending too much time in the sun is one of the causes of my squamous cell carcinomas, along with long term use of prednisone and my history of stem cell transplants. But I wouldn’t want anyone scolding me about it, and I wouldn’t scold anyone who had the same thing happen.

Similarly, if someone got skin cancer from using tanning beds, I wouldn’t reprimand them, or if someone got lung cancer from smoking cigarettes, I wouldn’t say that they deserved it.

Hindsight is 20/20

When I was a teen-ager, before everyone knew how bad the sun was for us, I would lie out on a chaise, put baby oil on my face, and open up a reflector to magnify the rays. My mom, who was ahead of her time, would say to stop it and either get in the shade or come inside. Did I listen? Of course not. What did my mother know? (A lot, apparently.)

I would understand if someone told me I should have listened to my mother, but with hindsight being 20-20, I wouldn’t necessarily appreciate it. To have someone blame me for my skin cancer in the same tone that my cousin used in implying that it was my fault for getting shingles, would make me really mad.

Another more charitable way of looking at it is that my cousin (or anyone who acts that way) is just that kind of tone-deaf person and doesn’t mean to offend or upset. That didn’t make it much less upsetting though, since my skin was crawling to begin with.

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