In a recent post called Random Acts of Cancer (love the title, by the way…) a wise person and cancer survivor I found named Lori wrote about the blame game that often goes on with people affected by cancer.
She writes about the subtle and not so subtle messages out there that people with cancer could have done things differently to prevent cancer and can do things differently to make it go away and not come back. She writes about the language that people use that can be misleading and even blaming (maybe without people meaning it to be). She says we need to choose our words carefully. I agree wholeheartedly with this statement, because without realizing it, people can imply that we brought our cancer on ourselves and we can make it go away.
She made a very powerful statement in this post: “On some level the problem is blame, but it stems from something even deeper. If those who have not even been diagnosed with cancer can find a way to separate themselves from those of us who have, they can live with the illusion of control, and deny the randomness of this disease.”
This really hit me. It’s so true.
When I had cancer, I had people actually ask me why I thought I got it. I was 31 years old, ate healthy foods, exercised, and did whatever I could to be well on a number of levels. It just didn’t make sense. It was a random act of cancer.
But people asked the question because they wanted to find a cause that separated them from me, a reason why they wouldn’t get cancer. They knew, deep down, that if I could get it, they could too…and that scared the crap out of people.
A friend of mine used to talk about this. She said when people would ask her why she thought she got cancer, she would respond, tongue in cheek, “I think it’s because I slept with 200 men.” I guess that usually snapped people back to the reality that it was an insensitive question.
Of course, we can influence our health. (Lori talks about this in her blog post too.) We can eat well, exercise, stress less, take vitamins, get proper care for physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health, and on and on and on. These things can help us in many ways with the quality of our lives.
But as my counselor at the time told me, “You can not control cancer, but you can respond.” You can do the things that make the most sense to you to influence your health. But you can not take responsibility for the fact that you got cancer. After all, many people who don’t take good care of themselves never get a cancer diagnosis. It just isn’t black and white no matter how badly people would like it to be. Lori said, “We don’t give ourselves cancer. It is what our bodies create in the midst of an ever-increasing world of environmental and internal factors that have gone awry.” Well said.
If you are one of the many people living with cancer that experiences guilt, whether it’s imposed by those messages out there that imply that you could have done something differently, or whether it’s self-blame, I encourage you to let it go. Guilt of this type does not serve you in any way. Guilt does not help anyone in this situation. Guilt does not help you to heal in any way. It is not your fault that you got cancer. It’s not your fault. (I feel like Robin Williams in the movie Good Will Hunting.) Now you…”It’s not my fault that I got cancer.”
When any guilt or blame thoughts come up, or even thoughts like “Why did I get it?” see if you can notice what your mind is telling you without buying into it. Just because our minds tell us something doesn’t mean it’s true, and it doesn’t mean we need to believe it. Try to simply notice the thoughts and let them flow on by.
Have you had feelings of guilt about your cancer? Have you experienced blame on even subtle levels from others? I would love to hear about your experiences. Feel free to comment below or email me directly.
(Lori’s blog is called Regrounding and you can read the blog post referenced above by clicking here: Random Acts of Cancer
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