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How a Young Cancer Survivor's Death Proves the Serious Consequences of Bullying

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I was greatly saddened to read about the passing of Bethany Thompson, an 11-year-old who beat cancer at a young age. While one would believe surviving cancer grants a person a new perspective on living, her survival was overshadowed by emotional pain brought on by bullying. When doctors removed the cancerous tumor from Bethany, there was some nerve damage causing the young girl to have a “crooked” smile. While many would think that a crooked smile is a small price to pay for surviving cancer, a disease that will cause an estimated 595,690 deaths in the U.S. this year, according to the American Cancer Society, it was her crooked smile that attracted the degree of bullying leading up to her decision to end her life this month.

My father passed from cancer three years ago, and losing someone to a disease where one has little power over the end result is nothing short of devastating. I can only imagine what the family of Bethany Thompson must be feeling at the loss of their daughter; especially after believing their beloved daughter was finally out of the woods and on her way to living a long, happy life. I’m sure they never imagined it would be a deep sadness, caused by the cruelty of other people, that would eventually lead to the loss of their child. Bethany’s crooked smile was her battle scar from fighting a battle. It seems unimaginable this same scar would be the cause of such extreme ridicule, instead of admiration and hope.

Earlier in October, Bethany asked her school administrators to post anti-bullying posters
around her school, but was denied her request. While I don’t wish to blame the teachers and administrators, I must venture to wonder why a red flag wasn’t raised when a girl of 11 years makes such a request. I can’t help but feel she should have been taken more seriously. Students need to be better educated that bullying is not just simply making fun of another individual; it is hurting them in a deep, long lasting and significant way. It can cause one to have anxiety, depression and feelings of hopelessness. When Ms. Thompson took her life, she simply felt she could no longer endure the pain, a pain to which there seemed no end in sight.

It’s clear we have a long way to go in terms of educating people about acceptance. To say it is a tragedy to lose someone to mental distress caused by others after facing one of the most lethal diseases we know is an understatement. I hope someday soon children are better educated about the effects of bullying, and how it can cause a deep depression within. Children have their entire lives ahead of them; the last thing they should be considering is ending them so very early. The more they are taught to embrace the differences of others, and perhaps even learn about the story behind such dissimilarities, the more this type of behavior will begin to fade. If more efforts were made to educate people as to the causes of certain differences, they might be inclined to look upon others with a kinder, more understanding eye.

My heart goes out to the family of Bethany Thompson; a family who has already been through so much in fighting for the life of their daughter. I hope this heartbreaking occurrence is a lesson to those who think making fun of other people for their differences doesn’t matter. It matters. It matters to those on the receiving end who feel they will never be appreciated for the amazing people they are. Bethany Thompson clearly could no longer see herself for the incredible survivor she was, she only saw herself as someone unable to escape the critical eyes and ridiculing mouths of others; which is the greatest tragedy of all.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

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Image via Thinkstock

Originally published: November 14, 2016
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