Every time a person shares they have cancer, there are a variety of questions from a variety of people, family, friends and strangers alike. Some of them go along these lines … “Did you take birth control?” …. “Do you smoke?” …. “Are you overweight?” …. “How much alcohol do you drink?” … “Is there a family history?” … “Did you breastfeed?” …. “Did you get mammograms?” …. “How often did you do self-exams?” … etc.
I understand why these questions are often asked. The person asking the question is usually attempting to ensure that they don’t end up in the same position and they are trying to find the “reason” or the “culprit” for the cancer. Sometimes they want to know the answer, I suppose, but mostly it’s to put the person with cancer into a category.
The person with cancer comes to the inevitable conclusion that there was something they did to cause the cancer or that they failed to do something that would have prevented the cancer diagnosis. Neither of these conclusions are accurate, but it’s pretty much where all of our minds go at some point.
Here’s how Adiba talks about self-blame …
There’s actually NO WAY TO PREVENT CANCER.
Let me say that again — THERE’S NO WAY TO PREVENT CANCER!
Some of us, like me, have a germline mutation that runs in our family that increases our risk for cancer. Yet, those of us with a mutation are in the minority, approximately 10-12% of those diagnosed with breast cancer. The mutation doesn’t mean we WILL get cancer, just that our risk is increased and therefore there is usually recommended surveillance.
Most people who get cancer have no family history, no germline mutation, no discernible reason. Environmental factors might play a role in increasing risk. Lifestyle decisions may play a role in increasing risk. When one has children or not and the decision to breastfeed, these are decisions that may increase or decrease risk, depending on the age of the mother.
Do you see I keep talking about risk?
That’s the issue. RISK. Not prevention, but increasing or decreasing risk. All of the things that people want to point to as “causing” cancer are simply risk factors. No one knows what tells the cancer cells to begin proliferating out of the control.
So, next time you talk to someone with cancer, don’t interrogate them to make yourself feel better about why they have cancer and you don’t, just ask them how they are. Ask them how they are feeling. Ask them who is supporting them and how they are doing with self care.
AND THEN LISTEN.
And now you know more about risk and how no one is to blame for their cancer diagnosis!