Disability or discrimination -which is most distressing?

I am on the train on my way to London. It’s a 3 hour journey including my car ride to the station and its my commute to work. It’s very cold outside, on the way to the station the snow drifts were over 2 metres high in places and although the snow ploughs have been out the roads are still treacherous.


As I sit here on the train I’m wondering what it is that makes some people treacherous while others are the nicest you might ever hope to meet. Do treacherous people set out to be treacherous or are they just misguided, self-centred or emotionally unintelligent? I expect I’ll never know.  Fortunately I have more of the nicest kind of people in my life than I do the treacherous kind. I tend to avoid the latter as much as I can.


As a breast cancer patient (I’m still receiving treatment and not officially in remission yet) I’ve come to appreciate what living with disability means. I’ve also come to realise how much discrimination goes on.  Sadly there appears to be a link between those of a treacherous disposition and flagrant discrimination involving those who are different in some way, whether that’s a disability, ethnicity or gender. My earliest experiences of discrimination came as a child because I had ginger hair (I have very little hair now and will come on to that later). I was teased relentlessly by certain girls at school and, to be honest, they  simply weren’t nice girls. They didn’t grow up into nice adults either.


Now as a breast cancer patient I realise that discrimination against people with disabilities is a huge issue in spite of laws to the contrary and public awareness campaigns by any number of charities.  The UK held the Olympics and Paralympics last summer but at the grass-roots level I see little evidence that attitudes towards those with disabilities have really changed. There remains a significant amount of discrimination.


Before breast cancer I never considered myself as disabled. During the surgery and chemotherapy I wanted to believe that although my body had changed beyond all recognition I was still the same person capable of the same things. I am the same person. I am not capable of the same things.  I know I will regain some of what has been lost – stamina, muscle tone, hair, strength. I know that some things might be lost forever – being pain-free, sleeping soundly, perfect hearing, the level of stamina I had before embarking on the breast cancer train.


Sitting here on a packed train I am the only person with the tale tell marks of a cancer patient.  The majority of my fellow travellers are white middle-aged men who, I’m guessing, are also on their way to work.  Today I’ve had looks and glances – they range from ‘poor thing’ to ‘OMG she looks rough’ to ‘glad its not me.’ It’s amazing how attuned to other people’s reactions I’ve become and how their expressions and demeanour give away their thoughts.  I don’t mind the looks and glances. In some ways they are to be expected because as humans we seem to stick with what we know and that includes our preconceptions of what ‘normal’ looks like. Aside from my incredibly  pale skin, the absence of hair marks me out as abnormal in a society where women are still expected to look glamorous, feminine and girly.


The looks and glances are really just the tip of the iceberg. So much of it is hidden beneath the water when it comes to discrimination. From insurance to education to work in spite of anti-discrimination laws the discrimination continues. Some insurers either refuse to cover me or the premiums are so extortionate that I would rather take my chances and go without. Assessing risk and reward is not confined to actuaries and underwriters, cancer patients do it too.  In researching potential university courses I might choose to study in future, with a view to a new career direction for the next phase of my life, I’ve discovered many include the entry criterion ‘must be in good health.’ Hmm… I’m a cancer patient still undergoing treatment. I’ve had major surgery and six rounds of very toxic chemotherapy. I’m still having Herceptin. Although the cancer is being driven into remission, my body has been through so much its doubtful my health will ever be considered ‘good’ again. Being rewarded with ‘no evidence of disease’ includes taking the risk of heart problems, osteoporosis and PTSD. If insurance and education aren’t big enough contenders for discriminatory action, there’s also work. This has been a revelation to me particularly as I worked in HR many years ago and was proud to be employed by a company with very high moral and ethical standards.


In spite of laws to the contrary, discrimination appears to occur at every stage of the employment relationship.  My recent research has unearthed employers, including Government departments, who ask about health and sickness absence as part of the application process. Others who fail in their duty to make reasonable adjustments and yet others who refuse to accept that cancer is a disability. Like white stilettos and ra-ra skirts, I thought these kinds of behaviour were left behind in the 1980’s. I was wrong.


I sit here trying to weigh up whether the disability, including the psychological challenge of the life long threat of cancer returning (thus thwarting a long life) or the discrimination arising as a result of the disability is most distressing.  There is no doubt they both cause significant distress. My thoughts have come to the following conclusions:


Cancer, like other disabilities is distressing. It wreaks havoc and destruction not just for the patient but for those around them too. Cancer, like other disabilities, is not a choice. It happens and you learn to deal with it. An unhappy co-habitation arrangement if you will.


Discrimination is distressing. It adds to the burden cancer and other disabilities create. It adds to the burden emotionally and psychologically, it strips away dignity and leaves the victim feeling devalued and abused. I don’t like the word victim but those who are discriminated against are victimised, singled out for different, less favourable treatment. Unlike cancer or other disabilities, the act of discrimination IS a choice. People chose to discriminate (or not). It could be argued that some areas of society discriminate out of ignorance – young children for example may not realise what they are doing. It seems more doubtful that adults in positions of responsibility are acting out of ignorance and fail to realise the impact of their actions.


In answer to the question ‘Disability or discrimination – which is most distressing?’ I conclude that discrimination is by far the most distressing simply because it is within our power to prevent it yet we fail to do so time and time again.

What are your thoughts?




 (Photo credit: a77eBnY)


18 thoughts on “Disability or discrimination -which is most distressing?

  1. Pingback: Special Discrimination | seventhvoice

  2. Pingback: Most Influential Blogger Award | Ajaytao 2010

  3. Unfortunately awareness, by itself, does so little. The worst offenders are so because they lack the self-awareness required to police their own thoughts. The fact that they may be actively engaging in discriminatory behavior just does not occur to them. It’s obviously something that others do. When confronted the response is usually defensive. “Who me???? How dare you! Just look at you–who are YOU to judge ME??? The nerve!”
    …or they just don’t care.
    The good side to this is that time often changes values. Go find a picture from the deep south of the US during the nineteen fifties. Racial discrimination was something many people proudly defended. Now, fifty years later, their descendents just can’t get over how just plain stupid they all look.
    It will be the same with this too.
    Some day.


  4. I agree, Tracy, discrimination is a choice. The silver lining is that it can be changed. If we teach others to view everyone as a part of the whole, then this type of victimization will become a thing of the past. I mentioned in my post how old souls often choose the role of innocent victim. You are definitely an old soul, Tracy. You are here to guide us to a higher consciousness. Stay strong and keep shining your Light. I am learning so much from you. Thank you. {{{Hugs}}} Kozo


    • Thank you Kozo, I have been taken aback by how much discrimination persists in the world and how much of it is on my own door step in a country that claims to respect everyone. However just as we can make a difference by blogging for peace I believe we can help eradicate discrimination by shining a spotlight on it and holding those responsible for it to account. I learn as much from you as you do from me, that’s the beauty of our friendship. 🙂


  5. I blogged this myself a while back when I was new here, VERY important debate http://prayingforoneday.wordpress.com/2012/09/16/but-i-dont-see-a-wheelchair/

    discrimination is something that angers me so much. Example, I park my Car in a disabled bay, and because I have no wheelchair, people look and often ask why I am there, even with a big Disabled Badge on my car windscreen. I get angry, and have learnt to ignore it. I just point at my badge and leave it. We have two Daughters, 2 and 3, so we park in the Parents/Kids spaces as much as we can, to stop this. How bad huh?

    Going to pick up my prescription (I am in the UK) And as you know, our Dr’s appointments and prescriptions are free. When I go weekly to pick up my big bag of medication for my Chronic Pain and other medication for side effects, I often “feel” I am being looked down on as some sort of “Low Life” and I know many others who say the same.

    People judge, and I guess we all may do it. I am not aware of doing it, maybe I do.
    I hope all goes well with you and your issue, with all my heart..x

    Discrimination in the West of my Country, Scotland is RIFE in terms of Sectarianism, it is really ugly and vile. And it comes through two football teams, Celtic and Rangers. Catholic and Protestant respectfully. So I see it and live in it every day almost.

    The answer is, I don’t know. People are born and taught to either love or hate. In the West of Scotland people are born and through time and education in Catholic and Protestant and more so through parents, kids are taught to hate the opposite. Google it, many don’t believe me.

    Great blog.
    And nice to meet you.
    Shaun your new Tartan friend



    • Hi Shaun,

      Discrimination is such a big issue even though we’re all meant to be more aware and more accepting these days. I’m sure when my hair grows back people will wonder why I still sit in the priority seating on the train (because I have a lot of ongoing side effects that show no sign of diminishing). Your post highlights an interesting situation – visible disabilities seem to be more accepted than those that aren’t visible.

      Racial and religious discrimination like disability discrimination are so unnecessary. I know there’s no love lost between the Catholics and Protestants, I’ve seen it when visiting Scotland. I also saw it in Belfast when I went there in the ’90’s. Why do we keep teaching our children to repeat the mistakes of the past? When we we teach them to be open to and respectful of different views, beliefs or birthplaces? I don’t know the answer to these questions but am glad I raised my son to respect people’s differences and accept we don’t all have to be the same. Hopefully when he has kids he’ll teach them to be generous towards others too.

      Thanks for stopping by here, for understanding and for being my friend 🙂


      • You hit the nail on the head.
        “Why do we keep teaching our children to repeat the mistakes of the past?”
        A question many in Scotland ask.
        Parliament could do more, but don’t.
        It is a sick thing, and many step away from it. A minority stick to it. I am glad I am on the other coast.

        And pleasure is all mine. x


  6. Even though I have travelled far and wide and am married to a lovely British lady born in Germany, I have been subjected to racial discrimination in England and Italy, just for being an Indian. This doesn’t bother me even though I believe that all forms of discrimination are equivalent to the same thing – anti-humanism.


    • I think we have a problem in England (and elsewhere) and some people think its ok to discriminate. It’s never ok. I find it offensive and it upsets me to hear racist comments. Many of my friends are from different races and cultures and I don’t want them to be bullied/insulted/abused – if it hurts them it hurts me too. I agree it is anti-humanism Jo and it needs to stop. Take care my friend.


  7. As a ginger haired tall stick insect with blue skin and freckles I completely relate to the child bullying. Redheads have it really tough in school. My way of coping with it became to be outrageous, to stand out, to be different. If they were going to look at me, they were going to do it for what I wanted them to look at!

    I also have problems getting work now because of my health. I can’t get insurance, and my sickness record goes against me, and I don’t have a life threatening illness. I left my last job because of my health, but I didn’t say that in my resignation letter obviously, I said I wanted more time with my family. Now I can’t get job seekers allowance because I am told I left work voluntarily.

    Very glad to hear that you are well enough to be back at work, I really didn’t think that you would recover that quickly! Hope you continue to feel better & better & get confirmation of remission very soon xxxx


    • I’m really sorry to hear what’s happened to you with work and I understand the problems of state support – while I was ill I got no help and if I lose my job it looks like I’ll get no help either because I saved to fund my son’s ongoing education at uni. It’s remarkable to think we have both paid into ‘the system’ for years yet when help is required the shutters are pulled down tight and locked. I pushed myself back to work as soon as I could because I’d have had no income and couldn’t face the thought of losing my home, falling behind with bills or getting blacklisted. I also felt very excluded. We shouldn’t have to worry about these things on top of ill health but it seems the way of the world these days.

      One day, things will change for the better xxx


      • Maybe it would be worth paying off some of your mortgage with your savings? The new student loans are bigger but not lifelong, and also have higher repayment threshold


  8. I believe things got worst in the USA. Less jobs mean few opportunities. The company I work for. Hired people with disabilities in the past. I haven’t seen anyone hired in five years with any type of disability. Cancer is different. Many people had survived and lost at my work. Thank you for your blog. Open the door to thoughts.


    • My cousin lives in the US and has seen how times have changed, more is expected from people in work and those who are out of work are out of luck. The UK is not so far behind and with so many people unemployed, some employers are behaving in a less than ethical fashion. Our Government also seems hellbent on making life as difficult as possible for people with disabilities. I say to those in positions of power try living the life of a disabled person for just one day and your attitudes will soon change.


  9. I agree that discrimination is a “disease” I never expected when I was diagnosed with uterine cancer. I agree that it is painful to be underestimated or expected to fail. What has stunned me is how, even after I disproved their assessments that I would be unable to keep doing my job, I continue to be a target for discrimination. Retaliation for asserting my legal rights continues. But I am tougher than they expected, tough enough to handle this, too. Which is worse? The discrimination. You said it correctly, so preventable. Hang in there!


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