Did You?

Did you smoke, and for how long?

Did you drink, how much, how often?

Did you have kids?

Did you use a tanning bed?

Did you even try to lose weight?

Did you take hormones or the Pill?

Did you eat enough blueberries?

Did you eat tomatoes?

Did you eat meat?

Did you buy organic?

Did you eat a lot of sugar?

Because if you have cancer, you did it to yourself.

Several days ago, Dr. Otis Brawley of the American Cancer Society wrote on some news site that most cancers are preventable and made bullet points of the usual laundry list of prevention measures. He did not say that everyone, or me personally, Curmudgeon Q. Cancer Patient, had brought cancer upon themselves/myself. But I still feel a zing when I read or hear this sort of thing. I am still trying to figure out why I get that zing.

Now, I know should avoid comments sections on mainstream news media sites. They cause me much stress—another cause of cancer, naturally. So why read them? Well, it does give a glimpse into how and what people think. Of course one person whose husband died from cancer protested the idea her husband brought it on himself, and another responded along the lines of: all these damn cancer patients are too sensitive, this article isn’t blaming them.

Ah there is the rub. Why are we sensitive? Well, because we get asked those questions I just listed at the start of this post, and more. A lot. Or at least I did. And yes, I brought some of the paranoia on myself, every time I looked at a magazine cover while waiting in line at the grocery store, each one touting some food I hate (fruits, including those cursed tomatoes) as a sure fire way to prevent cancer—and it usually says “prevent”, not “lower your risk”, at least on the cover, the story changes a bit on the pages inside.

Yes, I know, breast cancer patients are not blamed for their situation as much as lung cancer patients or people with heart disease. I just read another article about the latest mammography mess in which the journalist pondered how women think of heart disease as a result of bad behavior, while breast cancer is considered something bad that happens to women. I really have a hard time with this particular misperception that I see in articles more frequently than I’d like. Because from where I’m standing, when I got asked those questions, there was a flicker of a suggestion that this cancer did not just “happen”, but rather, I’d engaged in actions or non-actions that resulted in my getting cancer. I think that could be called blame.

I constantly see pieces linking smoking, and especially alcohol, to breast cancer. Yes I see it more than average folks because, you know, I had breast cancer, so I hone in on these items. But I am sure a few others are seeing it, and it is getting lodged at least in the subconscious. Well, OK, maybe not, given that most local breast cancer fundraisers in my small town are sponsored by bars and other businesses selling alcohol, and yes, alcohol is generally served, never mind all the chatter about alcohol causing breast cancer. Ugh, that is a post for another day.

It’s just that, for anyone to think most people, even on subconscious, unspoken levels, are not blaming the cancer patients, any cancer patients, for getting themselves into their fixes, it’s just…naïve. We must be blamed, we must endure those insulting “did you do this, did you not do that” questions. Some folks MUST blame us, because it is the only way they can assure themselves they’ll be safe from cancer. Anything they do that is different—eating, drinking, having kids—well, that is the get out of cancer free card, isn’t it? If only that were true.

What will it take to end the blame the patient game? Maybe cancer patients are too sensitive, but there is a reason. Too bad sensitivity isn’t transferable to others in need of it.

Author: Cancer Curmudgeon

Oct 2010 diagnosed with Stage 3, HER2+ Breast Cancer. Completed treatment Jan 2012. Waaaaaay over pink. Applying punk rock sensibility to how I do cancer.

37 thoughts on “Did You?”

  1. Did you live on a polluted planet? ….. (One in 5 women in the East Bay area of northern California are getting breast cancer, even someone like me who ate organic food and drank filtered water for 30+ years. My drs. all told me I was poisoned by the environment, nothing I did or didn’t do.) Agreed that many want to blame us because then it couldn’t possibly happen to them…. One former friend said it was because I had lived a “stressful” life. Thanks for your posts.


    1. Oh yes, the divide between personal responsibility, which is what everyone is supposed to take, while ignoring the larger pieces of the puzzle which are just too hard to change, because it requires industrial or political change. I wrote about it a year ago, thought it was out of my system. But a few things I saw and had conversations about just overwhelmed me today.
      Thanks for reading!


  2. I am with you on this when I see those articles on how not to get cancer I feel my stomach drop!! Makes me feel physically sick … How do they explain a friend of mine who was a vegetarian all her life, practiced yoga and appeared very healthy, she was diagnosed with bowel cancer! What about those people who drink and smoke there way through life and die at a ripe old age with no cancer!!… We just all get on and live our lives and then something goes very wrong but we did not create this on purpose … We did not mean to get sick… We just did …


    1. Yes, and I know the article is based on data and that I certainly could do better making healthy choices. But I also it isn’t fool-proof, I could still get cancer again. I just got a little upset over a couple things I saw and heard and just had to kick against this nonsense again. Sigh.
      So good to hear from you as always! 🙂


  3. Ah yes, the blame game… sadly, it still goes on. And I feel that same zing you mentioned way more frequently than I’d like. Reducing one’s risk is doable, but saying a person can prevent cancer is inaccurate and yes, wrong.


    1. Thanks Nancy! For the most part, these messages don’t agitate me the way they did during treatment, or even over a year ago when I started the blog. But, it’s cumulative. I can roll my eyes and ignore this for 99 times, and then when the 100th incident–be it media message, conversation with someone–and I just get tired of the way the conversation goes. So while the comment I mentioned, that no one was blaming a specific patient is true, the failure to understand why any random patient, myself included, would feel a little blamed really struck me. I think what some folks don’t get is just how constantly these messages are delivered, whether by media or friends asking a patient these questions.


    1. Ooooo, thanks for the link, I can give that a listen!
      Yes, I’ve seen cancer patients blame themselves, and it can be sad. While yes, better choices by all, me too, could be made, there a many other factors at play. This post is just me being tired of hearing the same message over and over, and trying to understand why it is so irksome that I would react as if I’d been accused, much like the person who’d made the comment in the article.


  4. I think there are things we can do to prevent cancer, but I believe that nothing is fool-proof and that the bottom line isn’t whether or not to blame the patient with the cancer but instead to focus on how to heal her/him and to prevent re-occurrence.


    1. I’ve mentioned in other comments, I understand and agree that there are things I could do better for risk reduction. My bigger gripe is just wondering why I, and maybe the woman in the comments, would feel like we’re being blamed (or rather her husband). I realized, for me at least, it was just the fact I heard these questions so often that they’ve chipped away at me a bit. Sadly, I think there may always be an element of blame, for the reason I listed in the post–as long as a patient did SOMETHING to cause cancer, then others can believe themselves safe. I know I had that attitude before I got cancer, and I’ve mostly moved beyond that nonsense–until I run across it repeatedly as I did recently, resulting in this hissy fit post! 🙂


      1. I am glad you had your hissy fit post as it needed to be said. I could have blamed myself for getting cancer certainly, but it does nothing for the present situation except to allow blame to continue which does nothing positive in my life. I’ve had those feelings in the past, but like you, I’ve moved on. I paid my dues with the changes that I’ve endured that are life changes which can never be undone. Now I concentrate on how I can help others who are enduring cancer, chemo, radiation, surgeries, sadness and all the other mess that goes along with a cancer diagnosis. It can’t be undone so I refuse to cry over the possibility that it’s my fault. I could ask myself why a thousand times (and I have) Why me? etc, but it doesn’t change the fact that I’m here. I deal with that cancer diagnosis every day for the last 13 years. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been thriving so long with it that I just don’t go there anymore. But I certainly understand those feelings and sympathize/empathize with them. I learned that if it’s not helping me, then I let it go for my life is too short to hold onto uncertain blame. I hope this helps. Big hugs to you and to all who deal with ignorant people in their lives. ♥


  5. Great post! When I was diagnosed, I didn’t spend a minute wondering ‘why me’. With the rates so high, what would make anyone invulnerable? My friends’ most common reaction to the news I had cancer was (paraphrased) “You have the healthiest lifestyle of anyone. You should be the last person to get cancer.” Next was the puzzle of who survived and who didn’t. My conclusion became that getting and then surviving is a randomized crapshoot; something along the lines of a cosmic joke the Great Trickster plays. Shakespeare, as usual, said it best:
    As flies to wanton boys are we to th’ gods.
    They kill us for their sport.
    Duke of Gloucester, King Lear → Act 4, Scene 1

    My healthy lifestyle did, which I’m grateful for, let me ace the most toxic chemo cocktail they could administer without killing me. The quality of my life during the awful Dose Dense chemo was as good as it could have been, I avoided both hospitalization and blood transfusions that are the norm for that chemo, and I recovered from each treatment faster than expected.

    So, eat your fruits and veggies please C.C., (even the tomatoes, they can be disguised). Because, whether it can “prevent” disease or not, healthy living has its uses. Blame, on the other hand, doesn’t.


    1. Oh I’m not poo-poo’ing healthy choices, etc. Just exploring why I feel blamed and defensive even–and it is just that this message happens so often–from media, and random people. I felt this twinge, and read the comments and recognized another felt it too. And then reading the response it hit me that most folks just have no understanding of just how often a cancer patient will hear this message, get those questions with a hint of blame. Most of the time I succeed in ignoring it all, it just so happens that the 100th time I hear it, it’s like Enough Already!
      Blame likely does have a use, it gives the one doing the blaming a false sense of security. I know, I’ve been there, and I’ve learned better.


  6. Great post. The misperceptions and misrepresentations in the media don’t help all because they further add to the idea that as individuals we can do something to “prevent” cancer rather than just reducing our risk. And even then, we still don’t know nearly enough about the causes/risks. We need to see better balanced reporting, including in the headlines and magazine covers.


    1. THANK YOU! The media’s role in this is huge. And yes, it interests me how often ALL responsibility is placed on individuals rather than other factors out of one’s control. Balanced reporting would be so welcome, but I can guess at why it doesn’t sell.
      One thing that interests me in cancer conversations is how little they move forward. In the area of medical issues or research, for example, the same ideas keep getting “new” reports. I blew a gasket last year when some report was held up as new proof of links between alcohol and cancer. I was like, yeah, I see that every other time I open a magazine–I got the message–spend money on some new idea, or if most aren’t getting the message, figure out how to spread it better, while at the same time exploring new causes. Because I’m sure even teetotalers get cancer sometimes! Cancer is far too complex to keep sticking all the proverbial eggs in one idea basket.
      It isn’t just medical areas that cancer culture is stuck–issues of stupid cliches said to cancer patients, the stale, inaccurate messages of awareness trotted out with little change campaign after campaign–I could go on. I wonder what it will take to get out of the ruts cancer is stuck in.


  7. Thanks for your honesty in writing about your feelings, emotions and concerns. You may also be speaking for thousands who find it difficult to speak for themselves. You address the things some only think about. Your article reminded me of a young man who asked me after his grandmother died, “Sandy why do say she died of natural causes? What is that anyway, I can understand a shooting or being in a car crash.” Sometimes many people speak without thinking before hand. I applaud you for bringing us back to the reality of living and of being human!! Thanks my friend.


    1. Thanks, Sandy. I mean, I cannot say for sure this is the reason the woman whose husband died feels blamed, but it would not surprise me–I bet she and her husband did get a lot of questions about his choices. Those who’ve not been on the receiving end of these constant questions would have no idea what this is like, and how this can translate into blame. Hope it helps someone!
      Thanks, as always for you kindness!


  8. well said, CC – I know you are not beating a dead horse with this issue of blaming the patient. it happens all the time, and people need support and reassurance – especially as a ballast against the constant barrage of insult to injury; I am especially dismayed when in a doctor’s office and see all the pamphlets and trendy women’s magazines, touting this or that way to “prevent” cancer. think woman (or man, god help him, as it all seems directed at women) sitting in the waiting room about to hear her biopsy results – if they are positive for BC, what runs through their minds? maybe we who have been enlisted as a BC buddy to someone recently diagnosed, can gently warn them there’s a lot of shit out there waiting to pounce on injured psyches, and encourage them that mainstream media is entrenched in sales and profits and calling attention to their own damned selves.

    and no worries, CC – I know this post WILL help someone. keep writing! you are a beacon of good sense, concern, compassion and caring. we need you to be the curmudgeonly voice of reason!

    much love and light to you, Dear Friend,

    Karen xoxo


    1. Ha ha, how did you guess I felt like I’d covered this ground before. I doubt I’ll ever put it to rest, totally, because there will always be people asking these types of questions, wanting to feel like they won’t get cancer (or whatever) because they’ve done it all “right.”
      So, as I said to another, this post was just kind of a hissy fit, a day I just boiled over about something I know I should not let bother me. Oh well–it happens. I’m a Curmudgeon, with soooo many other fish to fry, ha ha! 🙂
      Thank you as always for your unending support and encouragement–needed so much some days!
      love and light to you too my friend


  9. I was a smoker, and drank alcohol socially – social occasions and gatherings were frequent, so, I could have used those behaviors of mine to blame myself for growing breast cancer, EXCEPT for the fact that my mother, 2 aunts, 6 cousins and 2 nieces (none of whom ever smoked or were drinkers) all had breast cancer. None of us were BRCA positive, we were ALL diagnosed as having breast cancer from our environment. Did I mention we all live in different parts of North America?

    Science does not have an answer yet and although I am typically a mellow person, this subject draws out my mean side. I had breast implants when I was 25, after birthing my last baby, my body was skinny and my boobs were gone, so I chose to have the implants strictly for cosmetic reasons. That was another “reason” cited by an ignorant individual for ‘why’ I got cancer.

    I need to walk away from this subject or I’ll start using profanity, this really angers me.


    1. While I like to say cancer didn’t teach me lessons, it did, just not the kind of positive, “approved” messages repeated in society or media. I learned, it does not matter what anyone has ever done, NO ONE DESERVES CANCER. No exceptions.
      While it may be anecdotal evidence, some uber-healthy people get cancer too, and lifetime chain smokers like my grandfather don’t ever get it. Of course some things increase risk in some people, but as you’ve said science does not have an answer yet. I’ll wait and until one comes, I will try to remember not to blame myself, and stand up to anyone who blames me.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. This is a post I can relate to a lot. Never liked the blaming game in cancerland. Out of all the stupid comments people make, the ones suggesting “blame” or causing the patient to feel guilty are my least favorite and I don’t tolerate them.

    You are right, I think part of it is that people want to believe cancer would never happen to them, that somehow those who get it “deserve it” in some way or another. It is their punishment. There, I said it. Punishment. This is the one comment which is put in so many different ways, that makes me really angry. Been working on a post about it and I need to calm down before I finish it (would love to link to this post).


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