My Christmas Wish: Let’s Stop the Blame Game

wishWednesday night I watched the season finale of Survivor, which is one of my favorite shows.  Spoiler alert: if you haven’t watched yet and don’t want to know who won, stop reading NOW.

Adam, a member of the “millennial” tribe, was the “ultimate survivor.”  He won all the votes of the jury.  He played an interesting game and came close to be eliminated several times.

However, there was more at play here.  The viewers knew for most of the season that Adam’s mom had been diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer not long before Adam left to film the show.  She encouraged him to go and participate, as their family had long been fans of the series and she knew it was a dream for her son.

At one point during the season, there was a family member visit-during which Adam’s brother came to the island.  He informed Adam at this time that their mother’s treatment was not working and was causing her more symptoms then good.  They had decided to take a treatment break.  Adam was devastated by this news.  You could tell he was wondering if he would see his mother again.  He decided to stay in the game, with his brother’s full support.

After Adam was announced as the winner, the after show shifted to a discussion about his mother and her desires for Adam to participate in the show.  She was not in the audience with the rest of the family, and tears were flowing.  It was so foreshadowing.

We learned that Adam’s mother had died, one hour after he returned home.  She waited for him, to say “I love you” and other things that needed to be said.  He also told her he had won the game (even though he didn’t actually know the final result).

Adam has partnered with Stand Up to Cancer to fundraise for lung cancer research.  Host Jeff Probst, when announcing this partnership and the matching donation from a large pharmaceutical company of up to $100,000, stated, “this was a healthy woman, who never smoked, who exercised and lived well.”

That is when the hair on the back of my neck stood up.

Losing someone to cancer stinks.  Regardless of what kind of cancer they have, or how they may or may not have behaved.  As a dear friend states, “you wouldn’t ask someone with colon cancer, did you eat a lot of red meat?”  Why must we continue to blame and stigmatize people with lung cancer?  Why does it matter if they smoked?  Do they deserve to have cancer more?

No one deserves cancer.  Many older adults with lung cancer smoked in their younger years, but so did everyone else!  Cultural norms about smoking have only recently begun to change.

So, for Christmas I’d like to ask that we stop the blame game.  Let’s accept and support people with cancer regardless of what they may or may not have done that resulted in them being in a fight for their lives.  Let’s focus on how we can help cancer patients have access to the best treatments. Treatments that will not bankrupt them financially, physically, and emotionally.

The American Lung Association helps us to understand this stigma more clearly:

“Increased social unacceptability of smoking has contributed to the formation of smoker stigma and to smokers being viewed as outcasts. This, combined with the lack of understanding about addiction and poorly publicized information on other causes of lung cancer, has resulted in people with lung cancer feeling blamed for their disease, whether or not they have a history of smoking (”

I want to bring this back to the word survivor. Ultimately, isn’t that what we are all interested in?  More people SURVIVING cancer?  In order to do this, along with developing more treatments and making care more affordable and accessible, we MUST reduce stigma associated with the disease.  Stigma makes one feel hopeless and not worthy of care.  We need to increase our understanding of cancer, and our overall compassion for people with cancer, regardless of how they “got it.”

One thought on “My Christmas Wish: Let’s Stop the Blame Game

  1. Thanks Chris! Your Mom may have mentioned that I had SCLC IN 2013. Almost 3 years remission now! BTW, I was never “shamed” at my cancer center Coastal Cancer in Myrtle Beach! Treated with love and compassion. Some friends, a different story. Keep up your awesome work.

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