You Deserved To Get Cancer

Arguably the most shameful of cancer on the list of organs and appendages is lung. “Was he/she a smoker?” they ask upon hearing the desperate news. The answer dependant on whether it was just pure bad luck or just desserts. A reader recently told me of her husband who was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer of the lung having never had a cigarette in his life.  Another girlfriend who is a GP had to break the news to a friend who came into her practice with a cough from what she thought was a cold she couldn’t shake; a mother of young children, a non smoker, just bloody unlucky. I was horrified. “That’s so unfair. I don’t understand how that happens? It’s just so unfair”. When my father in law was diagnosed it somehow made more sense, while he hadn’t had a cigarette in 15 years I knew he was once a regular smoker. The cigarettes the culprit, a “reason”. That’s the thing with cancer, people want a reason. They need it to make sense.

Breast cancer of course is a far more optimistic and blameless cancer. In a sea of pink ribbons we are surrounded by words of support. With my own diagnosis I was handed a booklet, immediately signed up to a network and sent information on how to connect with others. I have joined a club. Everyone it seems now knows someone who has had breast cancer. The champions and ambassadors are celebrities we can identify with.  Mothers, sisters, daughters; there are great tragedies, heroic survivorship.

When I was told of my diagnosis my first question to the surgeon was based around sugar. I’d watched and read the latest spate of evil sugar movies. I’d purchased Sarah Wilson’s “I Quit Sugar”. My children and I watched “That Sugar Film” together.

“Should I stop eating or drinking anything with sugar? I’ve read that cancer feeds off sugar? Do you think sugar is a cause?”

“No-one knows what causes cancer that’s why we still get it.” said my surgeon who has been working with breast cancer patients for 30 years.

Unsatisfied with the answer, I asked the nurse.

“In 30 years as a cancer nurse I’ve never seen anyone cure themselves with juice and green smoothies, and I’ve seen everything. Trust me.”

“But you must see a theme?” I was sure there must be a type

“Well, we know alcohol plays a part. If you’re a heavy drinker it doesn’t help. But Kirsty, I’ve seen so many people come through this door who are vegetarians, people who are fit, people who have never drank. It’s a bad luck lottery, and you just won it.”

I’ve been fascinated lately by those who feel they have the control. Those who truly believe they can heal and cure. Those who confidently tell a cancer patient what they “need” to do. People whose sole qualification is a Facebook page and a head full of opinion. Where does that sort of audacity come from?

Fear? Control? Ego?

A girlfriend sent me a note after seeing a particular piece of advice I’d received online. I’ve paraphrased, but I think it’s brilliant.

Some people need beliefs to get them through, strict adherence to a particular way of eating. Control, coupled with inflated ego leads a person to believe they have THE answers. In a way it is like superstition/religion. Many of us may harbour little rituals, but what works for one body does not necessarily work for another and it is the ‘belief’ part (scientifically proven, which is why placebos can work) rather than the actual way of eating they believe in that does the trick for them. It makes them feel like they are winning some sort of battle.

I’m not an extremist, apathy has always been my friend, tomorrow my favourite day. As my friend Carol once said, “Kirsty if you were anymore laid back you’d be horizontal”. I’ll never know the exact definite time nor reason cancer inhabited my body. It doesn’t come with an explanation, it shouldn’t come with blame.

No-one deserves cancer, nor should they be made to feel like they do. It is what it is. Let’s just leave it at that.

Sign up for the best bits here

Sign up for the best bits from our community of forty thousands expats. Every Saturday morning we’ll shoot you the five hottest topics from the world of expat.

Powered by ConvertKit


  1. Thank you so much for this Kirsty. My father died of lung cancer 2 years ago. Yes, he used to smoke but had given up 25 years before being diagnosed. His type of lung cancer was actually a rarer one, one that in fact, usually affects non-smokers.
    Every time I told someone Dad had been diagnosed, or even when telling someone he had died from that terrible insidious disease, the inevitable question came “was he a smoker?”. People don’t understand how the insinuations that come with that question affect those being asked it. I always felt as if I had to defend my father, as if it was his own fault he had gotten cancer.
    Like you, I believe cancer is a lottery. One that you’re either going to hit the jackpot on or not, no matter your lifestyle choices along the way. I guess it’s natural to look for blame. It’s easier to believe there’s a reason that someone gets cancer and that way, in some way, remain ignorant to the fact that one day you may be that person.
    Oh – and don’t get me started on the “you can win this battle if you fight hard enough” brigade. Do they honestly think that every person who has died of cancer did not fight with all their being to survive it?! Grrrr. Sorry, that’s a topic for another day. This is all still a bit raw for me.
    Whilst not overtly religious, I do believe in God so I have been praying for you (and other friends I have who are also on the same journey as you at the moment). That might not be the answer but it can’t hurt, right?

  2. I was getting really cranky reading your FB over the weekend. These theories and ideas that are written as fact, make me so cranky. I recently read something about how damaging the idea of “fighting” cancer can be for the individual and their loved ones, because if there are set-backs or they lose the battle there is a sense that they didn’t fight or try hard enough (which is, of course, untrue).
    As you say, it’s a bad luck lottery. Eating a certain diet may make you feel in control, praying to a certain god, doing a dance at midnight in the rain may do the same, but to put these beliefs onto someone else is just plain wrong and damaging in my opinion.
    My paternal grandparents had a macrobiotic diet throughout the ’60s and ’70s and were non-drinkers, they both died early from different forms of cancer. If anyone shouldn’t have gotten cancer it was them. But they did.

    What I have is one of the only neck/mouth/throat related tumours not caused by smoking. As an ex-smoker, I find myself jumping to tell people that little fact as I think they’re probably thinking “She must’ve done it to herself”.

    Sometimes I think that people feel like they have to have the answers or solutions, be the saviour or just fill in radio space. Take care. xxx

    • “What I have is one of the only neck/mouth/throat related tumours not caused by smoking. As an ex-smoker, I find myself jumping to tell people that little fact as I think they’re probably thinking “She must’ve done it to herself”.”

      Oh Corinne, that’s exactly it isn’t it. Kind of like how women feel the need to explain their c-sections. Nuts isn’t it. Hope things are okay in your world xx

  3. Ahhhhh, sanity.

    My bestie has breast cancer – healthiest raw eatin’ clean livin’ chick I know. Go figure. My Mummy has throat and mouth cancer – and her surgeons have told her that there is NO rhyme or reason behind it, it’s just one great big unlucky dip.
    You rock. xxx

  4. Ditto.

  5. Sally Waddell says

    I just saw this today…the “blame game”. My friend had a cancerous skin melanoma removed along with three lymph nodes. And when another friend came up and heard the news, she said, “Oh how awful, if anyone deserves skin cancer, it’s me.” Think about that. Do we really think “I deserve cancer”? No, I”m sure she meant that our friend didn’t deserve cancer, but NO ONE deserves cancer!!! No matter what we did or didn’t do. It just sucks.

  6. Totally agree that no one deserves cancer.
    My Dad had cancer and he changed his eating habits totally, he tried everything, sadly it didn’t work, but he had to feel that he was trying. I think it gives people back some sort of control, as humans we seem to need control, to feel we can change things.
    I don’t agree with people with no training or anything stating that juicing, or veganism, or this diet or that will cure cancer, or indeed anything else, it’s dangerous.

  7. Absolutely, I’ll be getting through chemo with the help of a nutritionist, meditation and anything that works. But I won’t be preaching that it’s going to save me 🙂

  8. Even now that they’re finding genetic linked cancers, the debate doesn’t change much. Did I win the lottery being born into a family that carries gene faults? Will I win the 50/50 lottery on inheriting the fault? Even with an increased ‘risk’, maybe I’ll avoid getting cancer by exercising more, eating less sugar, etc. No one deserves cancer. All we can control is our attitude. Take control over what we can. And let others hold us up when it gets too much.

  9. Exactly, no one ever deserves cancer , or diabetes or anything .

    Sadly, when people are re-diagnosed with secondary cancers it gets worse – becuase they didn’t eat this way, give up alcohol , exercise enough or whatever they didn’t do to reduce their risks of recurrancet that are encouraged but not enough solid proof.
    Still they me exercise would reduce my risk so I run with that !

  10. Hope, that is what makes people cling to these ideas. I watched my mum do it because she knew nothing was going to work. She died Thinking she would see her granddaughter graduate uni (she is in her last year of high school) and watch her youngest take his first steps, (he was 4 mths old). No way in hell was I going to tell her that her green juice and potions weren’t going to work…. She didn’t want to die and medicine couldn’t help her she KNEW that… so she needed something. Hope is a powerful thing for a persons mental health don’t ever try and take it away from someone, it’s their journey not yours you are but a passenger, cleaning up when they have gone but it’s still their journey. Do I wish she did chemo instead of juice and cleanser and stuff? No I wish she didn’t die. Be kind…. Always. Life is to short and cancer is cruel.

  11. There has been a debate running in our group as to whether carrying your mobile ph in your bra causes it. (Never have.) First words out of my sil’s mouth were “Did you breastfeed?”. (Yes, seemingly for years.)
    Another theory is having had root canal…what the?(Never had one.)
    My theory is that s@%t happens.

    Keep on keeping on xx

  12. I’ve had three battles with cancer myself, and lost my mom to it when I was in my 20’s. I’ve played this game as well – trying to discover some rhyme or reason that exains the why. I still have no idea. BTW, I went in and got my mammo after reading your post the other day (I skipped it last year). As for your friend’s conjecture, I agree, and would even suggest that the need to control, coupled with a strong ego, is responsible for mamy, many of the ills in this world. Strength to you.

  13. Oh Kirsty. I cannot even tell you how much this resonates. It’s like a talisman for people – they just need to believe that there is a ‘reason’ and that cancer is ‘preventable’ if you do *xxxxxxxxxx* regime or diet or whatever because they cannot live with the knowledge that life is random and frequently unfair. They can all get fucked. Sending love xxxx

    • Thank you gorgeous. I feel like I’m swimming in a sea of cancer information at the moment, just trying to get my head around the diagnosis and treatment. Amazes me that people in the middle of it all then decide they need to tell you what you “should” and “could” be doing to save yourself.

  14. As someone who has been living with this disease for 25 years (4 relapses due toa genetic mutation I was born with), can I say THANKYOU for writing this. I have had every piece of advice under the sun, been told of all kinds of cures, told if I do X or Y I wont get it again. It drives me postal and what bothers me more is it is so disrespectful of a person already dealing with the worst.

    Thankyou Kirsty! And good luck and strength to you as you kick cancers butt!


  15. We always want answers, don’t we? (Don’t answer that.) x

  16. Couldn’t agree more Kirsty. First diagnosis for me was at 32. Skinny pretty young mum. Second diagnosis 54…new primary other boob, old fat and lifeworn. No explanations, no super cures. I have taken charge of treatments throughout. I am not counting calories – obviously, and have not avoided sugar – are you kidding no choccie? I am just cracking on. Sometimes it is not easy, but making a life defined by trying NOT to get cancer would be tiresome and sad and more than a little nutty, and quite possibly futile, cos there just simply is no explanation for who wins and who doesn’t. Good luck honey. xx

  17. Kirsty, firstly, I’m so sorry that I’m only just finding out about this now. I’m sorry you have to go through this – it sucks.

    As for the advice … *sigh* I knew a woman who was so very, very healthy. Didn’t drink, smoke, ate everything organic, etc etc and she got cancer. My parents were both smokers (my Dad gave up when I was about 14, my Mum when I was around 32), they ate a lot of biscuits, desserts etc (with 3 meat & veg dinners) and although my Dad was very fit, my Mum’s only form of exercise was walking back & forth to the shops and around them. My Dad lived to almost 88, my Mum is 87. She is not well, but considering her lifestyle (& age!), she’s done pretty well.

    It really is, like the nurse said, a bad luck lottery.

    God speed. I wish you a full, as smooth as possible recovery. xox

  18. Brilliant post! As a breast cancer survivor all I can say is every ones road to travel is different and individual and all we can do is what works for and feels comfortable for us. People mean well but mostly their irritating comments come from their own place of fear and ignorance and/or belief system… then we have to deal with that too. I wish you all my best Xx

  19. Tell people to shove their platitudes where they fit. It’s very empowering. I’m so sorry you got cancer & I hope you can be back with your family soon. xxx

    PS am a late comer to blogs. I “found ” blogs when I read an article by Carly of Tune into radio Carly on Platitudes about 2 years ago. Her article is worth reading and her blog roll led me to all these wonderful women who write great blogs including your good self. Her article gave me courage to tell people to stick their platitudes where they fit as the platitudes were unhelpful, at times rude and usually just plain stupid.

  20. OMG Kirsty, when I first read the headline, I thought someone might have said that… jeesuz. This is SUCH an emotive topic… and one that makes me feel uncharacteristically enraged… we lost a dear neighbour three years ago… it is just SHITTY BAD LUCK… it’s genes and enviroment, oh yes all that and one day we’ll know more (and I hope my daughter hasn’t got her Dad’s BRCA genes…) … but mostly, it’s shitty bad luck.

  21. I was a fit, active and healthy 15 year old diagnosed with a malignant high grade spinal cord tumour. If anyone implied I deserved this cancer I’d have a lot to say to them!

  22. Wouldn’t it be nice if everything had a reason? Cause and effect. Life would be so simple, so clear. But no. Great post. Life is random, things happen, and sometimes those things suck. x

Speak Your Mind