Cancer Buddy vs. Cancer Bully

Are you a Cancer Buddy or a Cancer Bully?

What's a Cancer Bully?

I regard a Cancer Bully as anyone who belittles or is being judgmental about a patient's experience.

Examples include:

  • Talking about a person's condition behind his back without asking him how he is doing.
  • Making assumptions about a patient's ability or inability to work without talking to her about her limitations during surgical recuperation or treatment.
  • Joking about a patient's condition in front of her children.
  • Judging a patient for being out socially and laughing with loved ones.
  • Criticizing a patient's decision to go bald in public or be photographed without hair.
  • Comparing a patient's condition to another patient who might have had an easier time with recovery or treatment.
  • Letting mutual friends know that you won't attend an event if the patient is invited.
  • Saying that the experience is all in the patient's head or that he or she is being emotional.
  • Claiming that anyone would use a health condition to get attention.
  • Judging someone's experience with cancer based on the stage of diagnosis or their appearance.
  • Commenting about someone's weight during treatment.

I think it's also important to remember that much like high school, there are bullies and there are those who do not speak out against the bully. These are the enablers. We all have an obligation to let people know when comments and behavior are misinformed, cruel and unacceptable. If the bully's comments don't stop, then we need to remove ourselves from the conversation.

How can you be a Cancer Buddy? It's all about HALPing.

  • H: Health-Affirming: Good health is something that we take for granted, unless we don't have it. We can't put ourselves in someone else's shoes, but we can seek to validate another person's experience and be Helpful in our attitude and actions.
  • A: Asking how the person is doing.
  • L: Listening to the person sincerely.
  • P: Pitching in as your interest, schedule and location permit. Realize that small gestures such as texts, cards, offering a ride or dropping off cookies matter. More examples of showing support to a loved one during a health crisis can be found here.

People, especially women, have been subjected to belittling and judgmental reactions towards their physical, developmental and mental health issues for centuries.

Have you been on the receiving end (either directly or indirectly) of a Health Bully? How have you handled it?

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