How social media helps me fight breast cancer

Olivia Silver is a writer and a PR professional. She also has breast cancer. Last May, she was diagnosed with the disease, and soon after, she started writing about it. In this column, Olivia examines the everyday aspects of life while being treated for breast cancer as a 30-something. 

I’m on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn and each social media platform possesses its own merits. But I never really fully appreciated the beauty of social media until I got sick.

When the time came for my husband and I to tell those outside our family and closest friends that I had breast cancer it became easier thanks to social media. We coordinated our Facebook posts so they went out at the same time. What greeted those notes was just incredible — I received many, many comments and likes from people who were praying for me, rooting for me and keeping me in their thoughts — my husband received a large amount too. And throughout my chemo treatment I’ve shared photos periodically to let people know what chemo round I’m on and how I’m doing. Those were also greeted with encouragement, which has made this hellish journey a little easier.

I recently attended an event where a person in the audience started talking about how technology was rotting young people’s minds. Another person talked about how young people are uninformed about today’s news and technology contributes to this lack of awareness. I would disagree with both comments because I believe social media and technology connects us in a stronger way and keeps us personally informed about each other’s lives — whether acquaintances or close friends.

Before these platforms existed it became very easy to graduate or switch jobs and lose contact with someone. You ended up only knowing those who were on a similar career or life path. Pre-social media, if you didn’t see them every day you would forget they existed. I’ve been told by friends and acquaintances that they are learning from me through social media what it means to have breast cancer and how it really affects someone’s life. Most people just thought that you lose your hair and go to chemo treatment, but they didn’t realize the other side effects and treatments necessary to fight the disease. They also didn’t realize how long the journey takes. If everything goes right along the way, it will take about a year to finish all the different treatments and healing, but even after that I’m not out of the woods.

Since I shared my story on this blog, people I don’t know have reached out to me to share their cancer stories or other accounts of struggle and how they got through them. They’ve encouraged me to keep going and to fight the disease. All of that encouragement would not have existed without today’s technology. There are days when I get down and when I wonder when and how I’ll get through this. And almost like someone is reading my mind I’ll get a text message from a friend saying she’s thinking about me or someone will retweet my blog post or send me a Facebook message. Those little acts make a world of difference in my life and they take a person a minute to send.

As several articles have reported, including this one from the National Cancer Institute, sadness and stress are very real feelings that can impact cancer patients and their caregivers. But knowing that people are rooting for you can make you feel like you can get through this. Social media makes it easier to reach out to someone without intruding or getting “too close” to the situation.

I’ve learned that you never know what is going on in someone’s life. When I opened up my life to other people during this battle with breast cancer, others opened up their own lives to me in a more personal way. We are able to relate to each other on a whole different level and that would not have been possible without social media and technology. It’s like having your own personal fan club that is sharing positivity via technology. Who doesn’t need that when battling the toughest fight of your life?

Read past Owning the C Word columns here.

(Image via iStock)

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