Health Magazine

Breast Cancer is Not a Punishment; It’s a Disease

Posted on the 01 July 2015 by Jean Campbell

breastWhile breast cancer with all of its treatment, side effects, and life changes may feel as if you are being punished, you are not. You have a disease.

You did not give yourself breast cancer; you are not guilty of some past transgressions or behaviors that resulted in you getting this disease. You don’t deserve to be punished.

Why do so many of us who get breast cancer feel guilty? Are our feelings of guilt rooted our cultural or religious beliefs?

The years I spent as a navigator, in NYC hospitals, put me in touch with many women whose cultures fostered the belief that cancer, of any kind, was a punishment for previous or current bad behavior. Some cultures that believe in reincarnation, feel getting cancer could be a punishment for something in a previous life.

It is very difficult to break through these cultural beliefs and reassure women in treatment that they are not bad; they have a disease. It is especially hard when women with breast cancer are part of a community that reinforces that belief. Many of the women, could not, would not share their diagnosis with family members and friends for fear of being thought less of, and being excluded from family and community gatherings.

Most of the men I met, in the hospitals, came from countries where breast cancer was considered a woman’s disease. They were ashamed, and shared that if certain family members and friends knew their diagnosis it would be assumed they had done something bad to be punished with a woman’s disease.

How much of your guilt is a result of buying into the idea that you are in control; that you can avoid getting breast cancer if only you follow the guidelines in health care magazines and on websites touting a long list of things you can do to prevent getting breast cancer. So, if you get breast cancer it must mean that you didn’t try hard enough to exercise, eat right, refrain from smoking, drink moderately and maintain a healthy weight. As a result of one or more of these infractions, you got breast cancer. It’s your fault you have breast cancer. What a burden to drag around as you cope with the physical, emotional, and financial realities of the disease!

Perhaps your guilt comes from those family members, friends and acquaintances, who want to know how you got breast cancer; the ones who pointedly ask about your life-style behaviors that may have contributed to your getting breast cancer. Know their only reason in asking such questions is to reassure themselves that they are safe; that you did something to contribute to getting breast cancer; that your cancer is not a random act of fate.

Assigning blame accomplishes nothing. It doesn’t protect those who don’t have the disease from getting breast cancer. Women and men going through breast cancer treatment don’t need to add guilt and the feelings associated with punishment to an already heavy load of emotional baggage.


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