Dec 02, 2015 10:00 AM

Author: Cancer Learning Center

By Amy Hawkins, PhD

This is the first in a series of blog entries about social media and cancer. In future posts, we will share social media resources for breast cancer patients, adolescents and young adults with cancer, and patients who have skin cancer or are at risk for developing it. We hope to share stories that might not otherwise be seen by audiences who would benefit.

How can social media help when you have cancer?

When coping with cancer, it can be helpful to talk to people who are going through the same experience. But often people recently diagnosed with cancer aren’t already friends with others who also have cancer. It can be difficult to consider reaching out and developing new friendships right after you’ve learned you have cancer. This is how social media can make a big difference in the lives of cancer patients. Connecting to other people with cancer on social media sites may be a way to feel a sense of support. It allows you to stay at home at a time when going out might be physically challenging. It may also allow you to connect with others who have your specific type of cancer. The internet often links patients with rare cancers who otherwise may never meet someone else with a diagnosis like their own.

Blogs and Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram accounts can give us direct insight into the lives of other patients and survivors. The authors behind these accounts can supply unique sources of empathy and mutual support. Cancer experiences are different for each patient; there is no one right way to experience cancer. Similarly, there are as many reasons for sharing stories about cancer as about any other part of life.

Why is it worth it to consider going online?

Some people feel that using social media encourages sharing personal information that may help others understand and support you. This kind of sharing can promote your sense of well-being. However, revealing a lot of information might feel uncomfortable to some people because it threatens their sense of dignity and privacy. Not everyone will want to talk about themselves on social media the way they do when writing in a journal or speaking with a therapist. You can’t make someone want to confront his or her feelings. As with other methods of coping, there is “no one size fits all” for social media.

When we express our feelings, it helps us handle emotions like fear and anger. People who keep a journal while going through a difficult time often feel that they benefit from doing so. Even if you choose to only read other patients’ social media accounts rather than interact or write about your own experience, you may still benefit. Other voices can state feelings you may be experiencing but that you haven’t been able to describe for yourself. Feel free to admit your feelings, even if they aren’t good. Being able to express yourself honestly may provide a sense of control in what may feel like a completely random and unfair experience.

We hope these points speak to people who have never given thought to using social media as a resource during their experience with cancer. Please stay tuned for future posts that will highlight blogs about specific patient groups and caregivers.

Cancer Learning Center

Huntsman Cancer Institute

Cancer touches all of us.

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