A recovering cancer patient has been the victim of horrific trolling by anti-vaxxers who used his image to create a meme spreading fake medical information and viciously mocked him online.
Nikhil Autar, who has fought an aggressive form of cancer for the past eight years, told news.com.au the meme which used his image to imply being vaccinated made him unwell, was shared on Facebook recently.
Mr Autar, a medical student and cancer vaccine researcher from Sydney who runs a medical start-up company, has been battling leukaemia since he was 17 years old with multiple rounds of chemotherapy.
The battle has affected his appearance, something Mr Autar has written about in blog posts.
But members of the anti-vaxxer community have taken his image and turned it into various memes, falsly claiming he is unwell because he was immunised.
Mr Autar said the “idea that someone would accuse someone of having caused their own cancer” was “disappointing” and frustrating. He said the worst of it wasn’t that he was being taunted for his looks but being told his illness was something he “deserved”.
Mr Autar said the shocking attacks were routine and had been occurring for years, and he had been targeted by members of the anti-science, anti-vaxxer and anti-cancer treatment communities.
Because his work involves writing about science and medicine – specifically vaccines – people have used his image and story to falsify information and imply that he is somehow responsible for his own cancer.
The anti-vaxxer who shared the “before and after vaccines” meme had disappeared from Facebook today, after people were motivated to report her account for hate speech, saying she had “no shame” for targeting Mr Autar and using his image.
In posts shared in anti-vaxxer groups, other commenters mocked Mr Autar, saying he had “given himself vitiligo” by undergoing treatments and calling him a “monkey”.
“The idea that someone would accuse someone of having caused their own cancer … it’s disappointing, it’s frustrating,” Mr Autar told news.com.au.
“Basically the reason why that meme struck a nerve was not because it berated my looks or even me looking unhealthy,” he said. “But more the idea that I caused my cancer. That somehow this is something I deserve, and that’s something that you hear a lot from people.”
The meme was shared on Facebook on Monday, news.com.au understands.
Mr Autar said, sadly, cancer patients were targeted by members of these radical groups and were blamed for being “responsible” for their illnesses.
“Because they didn’t keep up with the natural therapies,” he explained to news.com.au.
“A lot of cancer patients, not just me, get accused of being responsible for their cancer. They tell you about these miracle cures and therapies.”
He said these social media groups shared misinformation with each other and advertising natural remedies.
Mr Autar, who was first diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia when he was just 17, has endured 22 rounds of chemotherapy in his eight years fighting the disease. He has also undergone two bone marrow transplants. During this battle, he has multiple times been admitted to the intensive care unit.
But the young man is a resilient fighter, and intelligent, and told news.com.au at one point he was targeted by a man who was selling “super vitamins” he assured him could assist in his treatment.
“They tell you about these miracle cures and therapies,” Mr Autar said.
“When I was relapsing (with cancer) I almost believed in this guy who had baking soda and super vitamins.”
Mr Autar explained the person turned out to be caught in a pyramid scheme.
He said such schemes targeted people with incurable diseases, like cystic fibrosis and forms of cancer.
In a , Mr Autar wrote about how years of treatments damaged his body and affected his self-esteem. He said after becoming isolated, he found he was using his illness and treatments as a way “not to go out”, as he feared “the glances from people would bore into me”.
But he wrote of working to come to terms with how his looks had changed. “If they were judging me, they’d be pretty shallow, inconsiderate people who I really wouldn’t like to be friends with,” he said.
Mr Autar said his fight for his health continues; after being declared free of cancer, he is rebuilding his immune system and hopes to re-enter the hospital wards and complete his training to become a doctor.
News.com.au has contacted Facebook for comment.
Originally published as Anti-vaxxers’ vile taunts to cancer patient
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