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Cancer Blogs Strike Back: How social media educates, supports, and heals one post at a time

Rebellious, uncertain, overjoyed, fragile, strong, hopeful:  the voices of the cancer community come in many forms. Cancer fighters, survivors, and caregivers use cancer blogs to share experiences, get information, and connect with others throughout the cancer experience.

Why blog about cancer?

Cancer patients, caregivers, and loved ones can use blogs to support one another throughout the cancer experience.  Cancer blogs can provide a number of benefits for both their authors and readers.

  • Extend one’s support network
  • Allow for long-distance communication
  • Reduce stress for caregivers
  • Psychological benefits of helping others
  • Easily update friends and family
  • Comments allow visitors to provide ongoing encouragement
  • Reduce feelings of isolation and uncertainty through shared experiences

Nanette Labastida blogs about her battle against stage two Breast Cancer at Glitter Everyday.  Labastida blogs as a means to offer and receive peer support.  “When I see that I’ve helped someone, it’s incredible. I get random emails telling me I have helped people,” says Labastida. 

 To blog for all or a few?

Before beginning a blog, cancer bloggers should consider the following questions pertaining to the site’s privacy levels:  Do I want my site to show up through search?  Do I want to share my content with the public at large or a select network?  Will I moderate comments for spam?

The answer to these questions depends on the purpose and goals of each blog. Blogging platforms like Blogger or Blog for a Cure offer free, public blog sites that show up in public search results.  Meanwhile, CaringBridge users can adjust the privacy levels on their site by electing to completely block their content from search engines or host an open site.  These advanced features benefit users that want to be in a more private space where they can openly talk about sensitive and, at times, stigmatizing topics.

Budding bloggers should consider other issues, such as site accessibility, notifications, peer networking, and social integration.  Whether-or-not they create public or private accounts, blog users can create a profile and post updates in the form of text, photos, videos, and other multimedia. CaringBridge offers additional features, such as text notifications for new blog posts, access to contacts through Facebook Connect, and mobile applications for iPhone and Android. 

What’s in a post?

From personal to technical to medical to spiritual, the information that is shared on cancer blogs varies. The Mr. Can’t Fix It blog gives Dustin Ver Beek a space to “process life and [his] thoughts” as he takes on the role of caregiver-husband-father as his wife battles terminal stage IV cancer.  In a recent post, Ver Beek states, “There’s a big reason that men struggle when their loved ones are diagnosed with cancer. They can’t fix it”

Allie Morse started The Good Hodgkins blog in February 2011 when she was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma at the age of twenty-three.  A post in Morse’s blog reveals Morse’s sense of humor during a testing time:

“Last week I chopped off all of my hair… A bunch of friends all came over to Geekhaus (my boyfriend’s apartment) and brought craft beer with them. After some liquid courage, I let [my friend] Meaux cut it and then trim it short with buzzers. I have about an inch of hair so at least as it falls out, it looks more akin to my cat shedding than losing foot long strands of hair everywhere.”

Lori Lee was diagnosed with an aggressive form of skin cancer while in her early thirties.  Although she currently is NED (no evidence of disease), Lee continues to blog about struggle and hope at Miss Melanoma.  In a January 2011 post, Lee wrote:  “Dear Blog Commenters, You are the best.  You need to know this.  Sometimes when I read your comments, my eyes well up with tears, and I think it’s because I feel simultaneous: a) loved b) supported and c) perhaps most importantly- understood.”

These selections reveal how cancer blogs give cancer fighters and their caregivers a voice.  This voice educates and heals.  This voice cures.   

Sources

Blog for a Cure (http://www.blogforacure.com/

CaringBridge (http://www.caringbridge.org/

Glitter Everyday (http://www.glittereveryday.blogspot.com/

Miss Melanoma (http://missmelanoma.blogspot.com/

Mr. Can’t Fix It (http://www.dustinverbeek.com/blog/mr-cant-fix-it/)

The Good Hodgkin’s (http://thegoodhodgkins.wordpress.com/

Bender, J.L., Grady, L.O., & Jadad, A.R.  (2008).  “Supporting cancer patients through the continuum of care:  a view from the age of social networks and computer-mediated communication.”  Current Oncology.  15 (2). 

 

[Image credit:  CaringBridge.  (2011).  [cbsiteonmonitor_child.jpg].  Retrieved on April 12, 2011, from http://www.caringbridge.org/newsroom

 

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