#Cancersucks: How cancer survivors connect with Twitter

The cancer community is active and engaged in the social media space. Using Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and forums, cancer survivors use social media to connect with others and communicate with family and friends. This article highlights how one cancer survivor found support through Twitter and provides tips for joining the conversation.

Support tweeps

I met Kate Voth (@Kate_Voth) at the Girls in Tech Happy Hour during SXSW Interactive. We chatted about our career plans, gobbled down free barbecue, and swapped Twitter handles. I followed Voth’s tweets for updates on social media conference sessions and events. Then, on March 17, 2011, I saw this tweet from Voth:

I soon learned that Voth had much more going on in her life than SXSW parties. In fact, Voth is one of many cancer fighters that use Twitter to share their experiences with others, offer encouragement, and seek advice.


When Voth was 18 years old, she learned that the suspicious mole on her shoulder was melanoma. She had the spot removed, but cancer reappeared just over three years later as a lesion on her scalp that ran 4mm deep. Though the melanoma was removed once again, Voth’s oncologist recommended that she begin immunotherapy to help prevent a reoccurance. “It was rough—going through that by myself,” says Voth. Voth was fighting cancer at a time when she had just graduated from college and was starting her career. She wasn’t using Twitter. Instead, she used email to update her family and friends about her progress. “That’s one of the hardest things about going through cancer—updating everyone,” says Voth.


Despite ongoing immunotherapy treatments, Voth was diagnosed with stage four melanoma in early 2009 after cancer was found on her liver and adrenal gland.  She is now waiting to see if the treatments she has undergone since then will prove effective in beating cancer.


All of this internal havoc hasn’t slowed Voth down in her personal and professional life. Voth married her high school sweetheart, landed a social media job in Austin, and she is active within her community. Thus, Voth has developed an affinity for Twitter’s 140-character limit and fast-paced platform. In terms of her cancer updates, it functions as a quick and easy outlet. Voth notes a few other advantages of the Twitter platform for communication among cancer survivors:

  • Public Twitter profiles and conversations allow a user’s network to develop organically.
  • The microblogging platform functions as a quick, emotional outlet.
  • The Direct Message feature allows for users to privately send short, personalized messages.


In addition to these features, Twitter’s platform may have other advantages over other popular social networks like Facebook. Facebook’s real-time advertising campaigns can go beyond creepy if you happen to mention “cancer” in a status update. Voth posted a photo from a recent Facebook ad that appeared on her screen:

She shared this photo with her followers on Twitter—knowing that they’d laugh with her.


“It’s funny because I haven’t known these people [on Twitter] nearly as long as my college or high school friends, but they reach out to me.” Voth laughs and says, “They ask things like, ‘Can I bring you anything? Come over and do a dance for you?’”


As our interview wraps up, Voth says, “I don’t feel like I’m alone anymore.”


Through Twitter, Voth has found a community that doesn’t ask her to explain how she’s feeling. They already understand, and they are right there with her for the ride.

The #cancersucks community

If you’re interested in seeing how thousands of people are using Twitter in the fight against cancer, go to Twitter and search on a few of the following hashtags:







Countless other hastags, organizations, and individuals use Twitter to address specific forms of cancer. For example, you can search #LungCancer to discover a whole network of people working together to fight lung cancer. Or, check out #omgsummit to access recent conversations at OMG NYC 2011: 4th Annual Cancer Summit for Young Adults (http://OMG2011.org).

Up next & continuing the conversation

Next week, we will look at how blogging sites can benefit cancer fighters as well as caretakers.


In the mean time… How do you use Twitter to connect with the cancer community? In what ways has your social cancer network supported you? Tag your tweets with #socialcancer.



[Image credit: stock.xchng. (2011). “Network spheres.” Retrieved on April 12, 2011, from http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1008232]

[Image credit: @Kate_Voth. (2011, March 17). Twitter.]

[Image credit: @Kate_Voth. (2011, March 30). Twitter.]