06/13/2013 04:34 pm ET Updated Aug 13, 2013

Bullied Because of Cancer

I would venture to say middle school is the most awkward few years in most of our lives. We are hitting puberty, our parents are still insisting we wear glasses instead of contact lenses, and for some of the truly lucky, we end up with braces on our teeth. Cliques begin to form, and all of a sudden some of our very good childhood friends become part of the mean girls/mean guys clique. We are left to fend for ourselves against the judgements of other insecure pre-teens/teenagers. No matter what we say or what we do, we are picked on, criticized, and made fun of. Since the frontal lobe of the brain does not fully develop until we are in our early twenties, bullies continue to emotionally and sometimes physically harm others without any thought of repercussion.

Now throw cancer into the mix. We may lose our hair, gain weight from steroids, and be continually pulled out of school for one appointment or another. In the animal kingdom, the sick or weak animal of a wolf pack is sometimes attacked because they slow the group down. Maybe that animal kingdom instinct translates to humans, because the stories of school age cancer patients as easy targets for bullies, is fairly common.

In one report 35% of parents with children who had cancer mentioned their child was bullied. It's easy to vilify the bully and stand with our jaws open at how cruel children can be. The real problem, I feel, is the lack of discussion when someone is considered different. As humans, we tend to fear and make fun of things we do not understand. Parents, teachers, adults in the community, need to exemplify that different doesn't mean bad. If adults sat down with the children in their lives to talk about why someone appears different, and used that moment as a chance to encourage compassion, we could cut down on the fear that spurs on bullying.

Since bullying in the workplace also exists, if we can talk to our children to support understanding and compassion early on, maybe we could cut down on later bullying as well. Cancer is difficult enough without the added pain of being ridiculed by our peers. I would encourage readers to acknowledge this growing problem and begin to change how we talk to our kids about differences. Perhaps, have our children participate with us in walks for research, or raising money for positive organizations that help those struggling. Let's start working with our children to help make life better for all of us.