Opinion: Cancer is never the patient’s fault

It’s your fault you got cancer”: the blame game that never ends

Mirella Barrera-Betancourt | Staff Writer

Contact the author at howlstaffwriter@wou.edu

I’m sixteen years old, enjoying a fat slice of cake when my dad says, “Stop eating so much junk food. This is why you got cancer in the first place.” 

The topic of cancer brings clear images and ideas about the typical cancer patient; what they look like, how they act and how they feel. This includes the stereotypical image often depicted in the media; of a sad and bald child in a hospital gown. 

While this image may not be far from actual reality, it has widely misrepresented the day-to-day experience behind having cancer. As a result, cancer patients are left in the dust, forced to take the blows caused by this exposure of distorted ideas.

For example, when people hear the word “cancer,” one of the first things they might think of are risk factors, and what they can do to prevent them. They might say, “I can never get cancer. I eat healthy and work out.” Consequently, they begin to act as if they know what’s best for you. After all, if they can dictate their own lifestyles, why shouldn’t they have a say in ours?

When you have cancer, you suddenly become this person who deserves to die because you neglected to apply sunscreen, or because you smoke, or didn’t eat enough vegetables. 

In my case, the constant remarks became so ingrained in my mind that I eventually believed them. I blamed myself for being a picky eater and having a fast metabolism, even when such things were outside of my control. When there wasn’t anything left to blame myself for, I blamed my parents. My dad for working in agriculture and exposing me to all types of harmful chemicals; my mom for not being there for me as a child and making sure I ate. Lastly, I blamed God. 

I guess I just wanted so badly to have a definite answer for my diagnosis that I eventually began to believe everyone and everything they said. We, cancer patients and cancer survivors, want a sense of closure, so we try to find blame within anything and anyone we can think of, whether that be our parents, God or ourselves. In my case, it took years to come to terms with the fact that I may never actually receive an answer because there might not even be one: cancer can happen randomly. You can have every risk factor and never get cancer and you can have zero risk factors and still get cancer. Cancer rarely develops in predictable ways.

Before making a snide remark to a cancer patient or cancer survivor, I suggest you go online and inform yourself through some reliable sources. Know the impact your words have. Cancer patients are also human and your thoughtless comments hurt.