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Bullying and Cancer Patients

Bullying is a popular trending news topic. However, what most people don’t hear about is the bullying some people experience while battling cancer. Even less commonly heard are stories about adult victims of bullying. While childhood bullying is far more common, adult bullying can have similarly devastating consequences.

Patients living with mesothelioma, lung cancer, and other cancer types should not have cope with bullying. Unfortunately, it does happen. The consequences may include physical harm, emotional damage, depression and anxiety. The good new is bullying can be prevented.

cancer and bullying

What is Bullying?

Bullying is any kind of repeated aggressive or threatening behavior directed at a specific individual for an extended period of time. Bullying behavior may be physical, but it can also be verbal threats, emotional abuse, social bullying, cyber bullying (harassment or threats experienced online).

When adults are bullied by other adults it may be referred to as harassment or abuse. However, bullying caused or experienced adults is essentially the same as what children may experience as bullying victims. These are often targeted, repeated threats and aggression. Adults are bullied more often than people realize. A survey of thousands of American adults found nearly one-third of respondents had experienced bullying in their adult lives.

Adult Bullying and Cancer Patients

Adult bullying is an issue that has not been widely addressed when compared to childhood bullying. However, there are many similarities. For instance, all bullies tend to target victims they perceive as different or are too weak or vulnerable to resist. For these reasons, cancer patients are potential victims of adult bullying. The bully may be a coworker, cancer caregiver, or  staff member at a medical or treatment center.

Sometimes bullying behaviors are not as obvious between adults as with children. Examples of how an adult cancer patient may experience bullying are unreasonable demands at work, being socially isolated by coworkers, or intimidating or offensive comments regarding their illness, appearance, or treatments.

Bullying and Children with Cancer

Children with cancer may be targeted by bullies at school, online, or in other social settings. Some studies have examined this specifically, finding children with cancer experience school bullying at greater rates, often up to three times more than healthy peers.

Battling cancer can change a child’s appearance, causing them to lose weight or hair. A child battling cancer may also miss school or be given perceived special privileges at school. These can make a child a vulnerable target of bullies. Consequences of bullying are similar for healthy bullied children, including academic problems and physical harm.

Bethany Thompson – A Tragic Story of Cancer, Bullying, and Suicide

There are frequent news stories about children committing suicide after enduring relentless bullying. One of these stories occurred in 2016.  It involved a young girl who battled cancer, endured bullying, and then committed suicide. Bethany Thompson, a cancer survivor, was only eleven, when she took her own life.

Bethany had beat brain cancer. However,  complications left her with a crooked smile. This aspect of her appearance caused bullying when she returned to school as a healthy young girl. The bullying went on for years. One day, on the bus ride home from school, Bethany told her friend that she couldn’t take it anymore and would kill herself. The friend’s parents called Bethany’s mother, but it was too late.

The day before she took her life, Bethany’s principle told her mother he would investigate the claims of bullying. Unfortunately, it was too little too late. The school district claimed to have taken steps to reduce bullying. However, it was also known that administrators knew of Bethany’s struggles for at least a year. In spite of that knowledge, they failed to protect her. Bethany was targeted because her cancer left her looking different than her peers. She suffered childhood cancer and won. However, being bullied by peers was a battle she couldn’t overcome.

What Patients and Parents Can Do to Combat Bullying

For children with cancer, it is important for parents to be advocates. Parents should be aware, taking steps to stop bullying before it causes extensive emotional harm. Children will not always speak up. Therefore parents and other adults need to look out for signs of bullying. These signs include changes in the child’s behavior, depressed moods, anxiety or fear around a particular person, online evidence of bullying, or physical signs of abuse.

Parents should also be willing to engage school teachers and administrators and insist steps be taken to stop bullying. If you are the parent of a bullied child, it is also important to talk to your child and encourage him or her to talk about what happens. If your school is unwilling or unable to stop bullying, find out if there are state anti-bullying laws that can help you take action.

Adults should stand up for themselves in the face of cancer bullying although it isn’t always easy. At work, you can approach your human resources department or a boss who can help you handle the situation. If the bullying is occurring at a treatment or medical center, talk to your doctor about it. People who target cancer patients must be held accountable by those in positions of authority.

Bullying is scary, upsetting, and damaging. For adults or children already facing the battle against cancer, bullying is unnecessary burden. Whether you are an adult being bullied for having cancer or you have a child being bullied, action is essential. Whatever you can do to stop the action, hold the bully accountable, and recover emotionally is essential for you or your child to heal without the added pressure of being a victim.

Page Edited by Dave Foster

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Dave has been a mesothelioma Patient Advocate for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma meetings. In doing so, he is able to stay on top of the latest treatments, clinical trials, and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available. Connect with Patient Advocate Dave Foster

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