Breast cancer bullying

April 27, 2009 8:46:09 PM PDT
When you hear about online bullying you often think of teens and social networking sites like myspace or facebook. But two grown women say they were victims of online bullying in the most unlikely of places a breast cancer support site. (Some of the language described in the posts may be offensive.)

"I was diagnosed in 2001."

The diagnosis was breast cancer. Amy underwent a double mastectomy, and months of chemotherapy. For help with the years of emotional recovery ahead, she logged on to the site, breastcancer.org looking for support from other survivors. But when the chat shifted from breast cancer to social issues, the bullying began. She tried to ignore the verbal attacks but says the posts were relentless.

She read us one; a response from another survivor after Amy shared that she was on disability for fibromyalgia.

Maybe if she got off her ass and worked she would keep her mind off her disability.

Then, there were attacks about her sexuality.

"I wasn't totally surprised that I would get flack for being gay but I was totally surprised to get it on a breast cancer support group," she said. "A lot of the attacks were calling me lesbo or dyke or nasty words."

Amy tells us others were victims of racially and religious insensitive remarks. Amy says one of her online friends was logging off for good.

"She said she was leaving because she didn't want to spend her last days being bullied and that just broke my heart because how could anyone bully someone who was dying?"

Nicki, a nurse from the Chicago area, says other survivors started bullying her when she stood up for some of the women being attacked.

"So they posted my salary and then they threatened me that if I continued to give any nursing advice to anyone they would post more," she said. "I was shocked that anyone that had been diagnosed with breast cancer would be so mean to someone else." So why is this happening on of all things, a cancer support site? Psychologist Dr. Sherri Edelman believes the behavior can be attributed to the emotional turmoil ignited by a diagnosis.

"That kind of bullying or displacing or projecting fear onto others in some kind of dysfunctional way is a defense against themselves dealing with their own fears about their illnesses," said psychologist Dr. Sherri Edelman.

Amy says the moderators at breastcancer.org always listened to her complaints and were efficient about removing the offensive posts. CEO Hope Walls says moderators did address problems that both Amy and Nicki faced.

"It's sad and disheartening that people are coming online in this time of emotional need and are faced with this kind of challenge."

Walls says moderators encourage users to focus on issues relating to breast cancer but as with any website, conversation can get off topic, like in Amy's case.

"People can have differences in opinions or they can start talking about controversial topics and sometimes from that it can turn into a problem," said Hope.

We want to reiterate that breastcancer.org did and continues to address these problems and Amy tells us breastcancer.org was not the only support site she was bullied on.

Just some tips, make sure regardless of the kind of website you join do not give out personal information unless you feel comfortable that other people may discuss it publicly. Many of these resources can be very helpful and informational you can't be sure all the relationships you form online are genuine or trustworthy.


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