You have just received a diagnosis of cancer. You are shocked and upset and in a state of disbelief. You are trying to hear everything that you are being told while trying to figure out how you will tell your family and friends. You are thinking about how you will manage to handle all of your responsibilities and still make all of your doctors' appointments and wondering if you will be able to work during treatment in order to pay the bills. You are hoping for and counting on the help and support of those closest to you. And as you start to outline how your life will be as you hope that you will become a survivor, someone says (or at least implies) that it is your fault that you got cancer.
I don't care who you are. Under no circumstances do you know or do you have the right to even suggest such a thing to someone diagnosed with cancer. I have personally heard cancer patients blamed for "getting cancer" for any and every reason imaginable and I am so tired of having to let patients know that they are never to be blamed. If you know that someone has been diagnosed with cancer and you know that it is the patient's fault, then you have the answer to how to cure that cancer and you need to share it with the researchers immediately so no one else ever gets that same cancer. But, let me explain.
One of the most recent patients with whom I have had contact was targeted for her breast cancer diagnosis because she is overweight. However, I asked her to think about all of the other overweight people that she knows or has known who never had breast cancer. On the flip side, I suggested that she think about all of the women she knows who are considered to be thin and who exercise and eat healthy on a regular basis that do get breast cancer. And since most of us know others who fall on both sides of that spectrum, it was easy to see that we can't make sweeping accusations based on this factor.
Further, if you look at the statistics, 67% of women in the U.S. are overweight and/or obese. However, 1 in 8, or 12 percent of women are/will be diagnosed with breast cancer. So if being overweight is the reason that you got breast cancer, then why did the other 55 percent of overweight women not get breast cancer? I think most people who makes such statements to a woman who has been diagnosed with breast cancer usually is either trying to sell someone on the latest and greatest weight loss program or latest exercise program or the person has not bothered to educate herself/himself with the facts.
The sad part is that once someone makes such a comment to someone with breast cancer, you can't take it back. Further, once the blame game has been started, the patient may have been set on a path of self-destruction if they believe what they have been told. This is truly detrimental to a patient's treatment and recovery and often holds true in the long term as well. After treatment, if the patient doesn't lose the weight, they may sabotage their entire future by becoming so focused on the fact that the cancer will return because they haven't lost the weight. And if the subject is never addressed with a member of their medical team who may be able to enlighten them, the risk of negative thoughts and even depression become more likely for the future.
There are so many types of breast cancer and so many factors that are in play. If it were as simple as being caused by being overweight, we would only need one treatment and would be able to cure this disease with weight-loss therapies. However, blaming a patient for being responsible because they have breast cancer for any reason is the meanest and cruelest thing that another can do. I do hope that we will become a bit more empathetic toward anyone who is diagnosed with any type of cancer and do everything that we can do to help them with their treatment and recovery. Positive reinforcement and support and help is what a patient most needs in order to make it through treatment and to hold on to hope for a better future. And there is no reason why anyone would ever need to do or say anything that would lead a cancer patient to believe that they were at fault for their cancer.