Stop blaming yourself for getting cancer

Stop Blaming Yourself for Getting Cancer!

Do you sometimes blame yourself for getting cancer? If  you’ve been diagnosed with any serious illness, you probably have asked, why me? You might’ve wondered if something you did or did not do was partly to blame for your predicament. The blame game is pointless, unhelpful and potentially harmful. So, stop blaming yourself. 

Now there is more scientific evidence to back up the random nature of many cancers. So again, stop blaming yourself!

Easier said than done, though, right?

People like to have answers as to why bad stuff, including cancer, happens. 

But sometimes there just aren’t any.

Many in Cancer Land, including me, are weary of the blame game. We get tired of people, books and articles claiming to have the secrets to cancer prevention. We get tired of feeling badly for being made to feel we ate the wrong foods, didn’t exercise enough, didn’t watch our weight carefully enough or whatever else we did not do right.

You might think since I’ve got the BRCA mutation to blame for my breast cancer, I’d never need to ask, why me?

But you’d be wrong.        why me?

The fact is, not everyone who is BRCA+ gets cancer. My mother wasn’t diagnosed until she was in her seventies, so what did I do wrong that she didn’t do? Probably nothing.

But I still sometimes blame myself. I figure it must be those extra pounds I carried around for years after baby number three. Or maybe it was because I had kids at an older age. Or I didn’t breastfeed long enough. Or I breastfed too long. Or because I got my period at a young age. Or because I didn’t exercise hard enough or eat enough veggies. And on and on. I’ve covered all the possible reasons why in my head many times.

And then there’s my recent skin cancer diagnosis. Compared to my siblings, I probably spent the least amount of time in the sun over the years, and I never once stretched this body out in a tanning bed.

And yet…I was diagnosed with cancer #2 last summer.

You can go crazy if you try to assign a specific reason for every bad thing that happens. Everything does not happen for a reason. Sometimes maybe it is just bad luck.

At the risk of over-simplifying and based on what we currently know (not enough), cancer happens due to three things:  genetic factors, environmental factors and random factor(s). And of course, there can be a mix of all these factors coming into play.

This explains why in a family like mine, the odds of getting cancer are not only impacted by the hereditary factor, but environmental factors and the random factor(s) still matter, too. This also explains why not all who are BRCA+ end up getting cancer.

That recent study suggests that many cancers might be random DNA mishaps, in other words, bad luck. Cells are constantly multiplying and therefore, the chance of “typos” or replication errors happening makes a lot of sense.

Of course, this does not mean risk reduction efforts, early detection and so on aren’t important, or that we can all just throw our hands up in the air and say, it doesn’t matter what we do regarding lifestyle and such.

Not true. It all matters. All the influencing factors matter.

I’d add, the study again reminds us just how much we still do not know about cancer, including why some of us develop it and most do not.

Back to that blame game thing…

Even though deep down, study or no study, everyone has always realized we are all at risk, to one degree or another, for getting cancer. However, there is still a blame game that goes on, and there are different levels of blame.

For example, there is more shock and therefore less blame, when a healthy-appearing person who’s seemingly done everything right develops cancer than when a smoker or an obese person does, is there not?

Think about all those celebrity stories. Like this one. (See what I mean? More shock, less blame and also a fair amount of arrogance, IMO)

And we all know the first question anyone diagnosed with lung cancer is likely asked is, did you smoke?

And there are those other pesky “did you” questions my friend the Cancer Curmudgeon wrote about, ‘cuz there must be something you did to deserve cancer.

If you’re a person who did everything right health-wise, “you’re not supposed to get cancer” but if you smoke, don’t always eat right or exercise enough, sat in the sun too long and too often or whatever, well then, it’s sorta implied getting cancer is at least to some extent, your own fault.

Blame game! 

Cancer is bad enough without assigning blame or trying to figure out what you did or did not do to deserve it. That is a waste of energy.

No one deserves it. I repeat, no one.

Do not blame yourself for getting cancer.

Don’t do that. Just do not.

I’ll try not to do it, too.

If applicable, do you sometimes blame yourself for getting cancer?

Do you ever get asked any of those “did you” questions?

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Stop blaming yourself for getting cancer!

 

 

 

 

16 thoughts on “Stop Blaming Yourself for Getting Cancer!

  1. Thank you Nancy for such a wonderful piece. I blame myself all the time…. especially now that I finished treatment . I am in a constant state of panic that I am doing something wrong…. and it can come back or never left. I am so trying to stop.

    1. Carmen, I hope you will be able to stop blaming yourself in time because none of it is your fault. I know this can be easier said than done. Also, it’s important to try not to over-worry about recurrence now that you’ve finished up your treatment. Again, easier said than done, I know. Take things one day at a time and do your best. Nothing profound there, right? Hoping you have a few people you can lean on for support now, too. My best to you and thank you for reading and sharing.

  2. Hi Nancy
    I read your blog semi regularly, and always take something positive away.
    I’ve never asked “why me?” since my BC diagnosis almost 2 years ago, instead finguring “why not me”. Today, though, you’ve made me realise that maybe I have blamed myself, to some degree – although they were things I couldn’t really control, like early 1st period, not having children (never met their father), therefore never breastfeeding. It happened, & now my life moves on, trying not to worry unnecessarily about recurrence

    1. Lyn, I suspect sometimes we don’t even realize we are subconsciously blaming ourselves. And as you mentioned, there are many factors out of our control that may or may not have had an impact. Thank you for reading and for sharing, too.

  3. Hi Nancy — This is an excellent topic that should be discussed over and over because we live in a culture that’s slowing us down. I don’t blame myself for getting cancer but I did want answers. This is why I did genome sequencing testing and that’s how I discovered my mutated gene, ATM. I like to blame the cancer on my gene, but I’m aware this is only ONE piece of the puzzle. I avoid telling others about my gene because I don’t want people to ignore the fact that they are at a risk of getting cancer too. I admit, knowing about my gene has given me a sense of peace. I don’t question it anymore. I just got unlucky. And yes, people have asked me many questions about my life to try to link my answers to my diagnosis. I am very direct with these people and remind them about their risks too. I speak with facts. I don’t sugarcoat. This is why most people avoid talking about the subject with me anymore. I will always keep it real, even if my intentions aren’t welcomed.

    Thank you for another great post! xoxo

    1. Rebecca, There are probably many pieces to our individual puzzles. Knowing about your ATM gene mutation gives you an important piece to yours, and I’m glad knowing about it has given you some sense of peace. Good for you for choosing to be direct, not sugarcoating and keeping it real. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Thank you so much for the shout out Nancy–as you know this is a touchy subject for me.
    I still do blame myself at times. During treatment, I got a little pre-occupied with trying to figure out the specific moment the cell division went haywire. I kept thinking it was this very stressful time frame that April 2010. I went so far as to ask the oncologist but he said the tumor had likely been growing for over a year, maybe 2. So I tried to let that go.
    Then there are those magazine covers–eat blueberries/lemons/tomatoes/whatever to prevent cancer! It is so pervasive, this personal responsibility and control obsession. We just cannot believe “things just happen”. well, you know what I think. This is still a topic that makes me very upset.
    Anyway–thanks for another excellent post! I suppose this topic is one we will never “finish” with….xoxox

    1. CC, There are so many topics we’ll never be finished with. Sad, but true. I thought your “did you?” post was spot on. So I had to include it in this one I wrote. That blame game continues, which is why that recent study was nice for many to read. Thank you for reading and sharing some thoughts.

  5. Hi Nancy,

    Ah, the old blame game. That is society’s fault because that’s all people do: blame each other for something beyond our control. Somehow we all get the subtle message that if you eat right, exercise, and are fit, you will ward off disease. That’s what I thought when I was younger. I didn’t do drugs, ate right, exercised, and was a doctor’s dream of the ideal patient. And I got cancer anyway. I used to blame myself somewhat, wondering if the stress of my marriage and other life stressors caused the cancer, but I decided I shouldn’t go there anymore. Great post, Nancy!

    1. Beth, Good for you for deciding not to go there anymore. Usually I am successful at not blaming myself, but not all the time, that’s for sure. And on top of everything else, there’s the blame I place on myself for not having the genetic testing done earlier and then going the prophylactic route. But we all know what they say about hindsight. Thank you for reading and for commenting, too.

  6. This is such an important topic and one you can drive yourself crazy with. I totally agree with Beth. I got cancer when I was in the best shape of my life. I was an athlete, I ate right, never smoked, never drank or did drugs and no family history. According to the medical community I shouldn’t have gotten cancer – yet I did. I liked what a radiologist told me when I questioned “what did I do to get cancer”. “Stop, right there”, she said. “This is a no – blame disease and is NOT your fault”. It was such a relief to have a medical professional tell me that. It’s still very hard not to play the blame game though. I find when people learn I’ve had cancer they automatically start probing for reasons, thus feeding the blame beast that is inside me. It’s hard letting go of blame when society won’t let you.

    1. Lennox, I love the way your radiologist thinks! How wonderful she said that to you. I agree, it can be hard to stop playing the blame game partly because as you mentioned, society doesn’t let us. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this topic.

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