The Stories We Tell: Cancer and Social Media

Social media is easily the most confusing ocean of communication to navigate. At this point, the theory that people only show the “greatest hits” of their life on their online profiles is becoming more and more apparent.

Of course, like most everything with cancer, there’s no suggestions or guidebook on how to talk about your struggle on social media. Cancer, or any illness, is a very personal experience, and because of that, there are some people who do not wish to talk about their journey online at all. And that’s completely okay. There is no wrong way to process your feelings or share them with the world.

A few days after my diagnosis, I considered sharing this shocking and scary news on Facebook. Since my roommate had left for spring break, I had a lot of time to myself to think about it. I typed and erased a few drafts, reluctantly hitting the backspace key. “Maybe if I didn’t hit post, my diagnosis wouldn’t be real, and I would have nothing to worry about,” I thought.

I had just moved to NYC to start a fabulous new life and career, and I didn’t want people thinking I was weak. Admitting my diagnosis felt like admitting defeat.

I eventually posted that I moved home, but never said a word about oncologists or going through “orientation” at Roswell Park. Only my family and closest friends knew what was up. I was afraid to talk about my struggles because they seemed so foreign. I didn’t know anyone else who would understand how I felt. It wasn’t until I got the all clear from my doctor that I admitted anything had even happened on social media.

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The outpouring of support was overwhelming. So many people, most of whom I hadn’t spoken to in months, reached out to offer words of strength, calling me “strong,” “brave,” and even “inspiring.” I now feel more confident that being honest about my journey is the right thing for me to do.

About a year ago, I was asked to blog for Roswell Park, and even though I consider writing to be my strongest skill, I was still incredibly nervous. This felt like a huge platform to be publishing so many personal thoughts and feelings.

Fortunately, I have found writing these posts to be incredibly therapeutic. Something about verbally manifesting all those swirling thoughts and feelings seemed so soothing and, somehow, right.

It feels a little hypocritical of me to encourage fearless honesty about sharing your journey, simply because I didn’t share mine. But regardless of how or when you choose to share your experience, remember that your voice could make a difference in someone’s life. All I can hope is that my words might reach another survivor and remind them that they are not alone.

Editor’s Note: Cancer patient outcomes and experiences may vary, even for those with the same type of cancer. An individual patient’s story should not be used as a prediction of how another patient will respond to treatment. Roswell Park is transparent about the survival rates of our patients as compared to national standards, and provides this information, when available, within the cancer type sections of this website.