Cancer Thrives On Social Media

Cancer sure has become social since my mom’s breast cancer diagnosis, mastectomy and treatment almost 30 years ago. Mom never uttered the words “breast” or “cancer,” at least not around her children. For mom’s generation, breast cancer was a very personal and private matter, one she discussed only with her doctors and my father. Today, women are broadcasting their breast cancer experiences to the entire world, both finding and investing their time and (I imagine) limited energy in sharing the minute-to-minute details of their cancer experiences.

I have a lot of my mom in me. I might share a few intimate and many surface details of my dances with cancer and BRCA genes in the past tense, but with the exception of my sisters and husband, no one is privy to my health status or my emotions in real time. And yet, I am social when it comes to cancer.

My sisters and I have gathered, walked, run, swam and cried together, joined with hundreds of others impacted by breast cancer. It’s such an empowering and hope-inspiring experience to be surrounded by masses of women who have personally experienced what we’ve experienced. I feel a similar joy in being socially bald when I attend the National Alopecia Awareness Foundation’s annual conferences. Live, in-person, social solidarity around the diseases that take from us. What I love about such experiences is that it reminds me I’m not alone.

Social media is different - for me. As I peruse the many blogs, facebook pages, online communities, and tweet rolls of countless women living, blogging and tweeting breast cancer in both past tense and all so often, real time, I am amazed. Thinking back to my numerous false-positive breast biopsies, my prophylactic mastectomies, the oopherectomy, the infections, or thinking forward, to what I’m now facing, that which is still too present tense to broadcast to the social media sphere, I wonder.

How do so many women staring cancer in the face find the energy, devote the precious time, derive inspiration, feel meaningfully connected, through screens and keyboards? What is it I’m missing? How has social media helped you to face cancer? to process your emotions? to feel connected? or to heal?

Susan Beausang, 4Women.com

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