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Cancer Is the Scourge, Not You

Last month when I was watching Part 1 of the PBS documentary, Cancer:  The Emperor of All Maladies, I heard a statement in the opening segment with a certain word in it that immediately hurled me back to five years ago when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Guess the title of this post is a giveaway as to what that word was. But you might be wondering why I had such a strong reaction to it.  

In a weird twist, a magazine article with the title, “Cancer, Mankind’s Greatest Scourge,” or something along those lines, ended up in my hands at the time of my diagnosis. I remember staring at those words and feeling the weight of them, or rather the weight of that one word, scourge. Well, of course, cancer is an equally weighty word and putting the two words together was like doubling the load of them so to speak. I remember feeling sad that I was now somehow associated with two such horrible words. It’s funny how I had forgotten about that strong reaction of mine until I watched the documentary.

So what is a scourge anyway?

The dictionary calls it something that causes terrible trouble, pain or suffering.

Yeah, cancer is a scourge, that fits.

No one wants to be associated with a scourge. No one wants to be the cause or reason for someone else’s suffering, in other words, no one wants to be a scourge. And certainly no one wishes to have a scourge growing in her own body.

Yes, the word scourge is a heavy, thorny word that conjures up images of pain, unpleasantness, disgust, death and shame. Cancer patients have felt shame and been shunned for centuries. There can still be feelings of shame and yes, shunning still happens even today.

In Part 2 of the documentary, there were many more profound statements/questions made and asked. The following ones stuck out for me.

Cancer is a disease that does not strike from the outside, but consumes from within.

Nothing is more horrifying or primitively terrifying than us killing ourselves.

How do you make peace in your mind with what is going on in your body?

Pretty unpleasant sounding, right?

Why am I writing about these things?

Because May is Mental Health Month and it’s important to separate yourself from your cancer or whatever disease or condition you have.

Sometimes a patient needs to remind herself (or at least this one did/does) that she is not the scourge. Cancer is.

Sometimes a patient needs to remind herself (or at least this one did/does) that there is no shame in having a disease like cancer (or any other).

Never blame yourself for getting cancer.

Getting cancer was not my fault.

And it’s not your fault either.

Have you ever felt shame regarding your cancer?

Have you ever felt, or has anyone every implied, that getting cancer was your fault?

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 Image via May is Mental Health Awareness Facebook Community

12 thoughts on “Cancer Is the Scourge, Not You

  1. Yes, there have been people imply cancer was my fault. The “think positive,” implies that you can control cancer by your thoughts. But here are a few other choice comments:
    “Did you miss your mammograms?”
    “You shouldn’t have eaten__________” or “You should have eaten more___________.”
    “If I had your family history, I would have cut those babies (breasts) off a long time ago.”
    And the one that bugs me most……….
    “You need faith to ask God for a miracle.” (Actually, I already have asked, and so has my church, my friends’ and relations’ churches, and missionaries and their converts on two other continents. Maybe my miracle is that I am still alive at all; that God has given me good doctors, good responses to treatments, and peace in my heart about this, even if I am stage 4.)

    1. Elizabeth, You’ve heard some doozies. I’m sorry you’ve had it implied to you that cancer is your fault. That is so insensitive, hurtful and just plain wrong. Thank you for sharing some of the choice comments you’ve heard. Doing so will surely help others who hear similar remarks.

  2. Wonderful post about the feeling of shame and/or blame when dealing with cancer. I guess I indirectly blamed myself because when I was first diagnosed and going through treatment, I wondered — time and time again — what I did to get this disease. Did I eat poorly? Not exercise enough? Was a bad person? This last one is a loaded one, but there it is.

    Thank you for your attention to Mental Health Month (I forgot May was Mental Health month). As you know, cancer shattered my mental health, and the psychological problems I had as a result of being diagnosed with a devastating disease are the major collateral damage problems I must cope with each day.

    It stinks. But I manage to make each day a quality day, and each day is a gift — despite my grappling with myself.

    And you are right: cancer is a scourge. Great post!

    1. Beth, I think everyone who is diagnosed with any serious illness asks some of those same questions. That’s human nature and part of the processing of it all. But eventually, we need to ditch the guilt and blame. Getting cancer is tough enough without having to deal with the blame game. And I’m sorry you have so many psychological issues to deal with since your diagnosis, but I’m glad you’ve been open about sharing and have sought out help. So important and you’re a role model helping others for sure. Thank you for reading and sharing.

  3. Nancy, thank you for this post.

    I don’t know if you recall, but I once commented on one of your facebook posts about me not being able to curse at my cancer. Part of it is that I haven’t been able to separate myself for cancer because I feel that in order for me to have some level of peace, I need to accept that my body hurts itself. And these are all my cells, no matter what. I think this is also because of my mutated gene, ATM. I now have something to blame.

    About feeling shame or blamed about cancer, I have felt a bit of both. Ashamed because of the “culturally disturbed people” I’ve surrounded myself with (will post about this soon) and blamed because I questioned all the decisions I had made prior to cancer: “should I have had a child years ago?” for example. But that’s no longer the case. I am not ashamed to be a cancer patient and I certainly do not blame myself for getting cancer. It would be like blaming myself for mortality, which everyone will eventually face. Not to mention none of us have any control about the outcome.

    1. Rebecca, I do recall that comment in which you mentioned not being able to curse at your cancer. It’s difficult to accept that your body’s cells can turn on the very body they reside in. That’s why I shared the three quotes I did in this post. Pretty profound. I’m glad you don’t feel cancer stigma. That’s an added burden no one needs or deserves. Thank you for reading and sharing some thoughts.

  4. I have not actually been told that cancer was my fault. I felt I drank a lot of alcohol in my twenties and didn’t have a kid till I was 31, so those seemed like lifestyle risks that I could have avoided. I also worked in toxic environments spewing chemicals into the air. I do beat myself up for what I could have done differently, but it doesn’t help matters, and doesn’t make me well. I try to focus on other things, like music, laughter, and talking with friends and relatives, to lift me up. Thanks for bringing this mental health awareness to our consciousness so we can recognize it in ourselves and others. xxx

    1. Jan, There’s no good that can come out of beating yourself up over things we could have done differently that may or may not have made a difference. I think about this from time to time myself regarding my brca status for one thing. You are such a fine example of inspiration and I don’t mean this in a patronizing kind of ‘you always stay positive’ kind of way. You have class, that’s what it is. I’m so glad you have those things you mentioned to lift you up. We all need such things. Thank you for reading and commenting too. xx

  5. Well the hardest part of this disease being caught and surviving from this is if it is detected early. It is so hard for doctors to cure this when it reaches a certain stage. The amount of money paid for medical expense is also extreme in my country its just too much.However it is incomparable to loosing a loved one, some cannot even afford the medication. its just too bad.

  6. I was told by more than one person that it was my fault. No, they didn’t say it exactly so bluntly, but they didn’t hesitate to address issues such as resentment, lack of forgiveness, or poor nutrition as the culprits. The people who had these discussions with me don’t even know me well. Acquaintances at best. They thought they were on some kind of mission to save cancer patients. I thought I’d been good in all those areas they addressed, but the funny thing was the resentment that welled up in me toward these fault finders.

    1. Eileen, That’s horrible that some people implied getting cancer was your fault. That may be some sort of denial mechanism they used to protect themselves, perhaps making them feel cancer couldn’t happen to them. And of course, that kind of thing would make you feel resentful. How could it not? Thank you for reading and sharing that.

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