Illness can find a channel for expressing hope, meaning, inspiration and knowledge exchange through blogging as a communication form. When I attended a conference for young breast cancer survivors last fall in Philadelphia, it struck me that many of the women maintained a blog devoted to her journey or to the cause. I gave them a nickname -- the pink bloggers.
Is the existence of the pink blogosphere a surprise though? The Internet and a growing suite of digital tools makes communication more assessable to the average Jane and Joe. It is also a way to share, vent, and be very public or very anonymous whether one is in a big city or small rural community. "Only on the Internet can a person be lonely and popular at the same time," Allison Burnett, author of the novel Undiscovered Gyrl, once said.
In the hunt for breast cancer blogs by young women (those 40 and under), I found that the Google sphere is packed with them. I finally settled on three, which readily surfaced under the search of "young women breast cancer blogs." The variety of breast cancer blogs was as expansive as the number out there. Most of them had more in common than not.
The women who blogged were often still undergoing treatment and continuing to battle the disease. They were surprisingly candid about their discovery, treatment and the rollercoaster of feelings that came with the journey.
Despite the fear, anxiety and pain related to the illness, the tons of the blogs are chatty and conversational tone as if the women were having a conversation with their best friend at a coffee shop. Mostly, and perhaps surprisingly the blogs are candid about the disease, and their names are front and center. These women's journeys are very public, and I had yet to find a blog written under a pseudonym. Lisa Bonchek Adams blog) is entitled, "Writings on metastatic breast cancer, grief & loss, life, and family."
In a December post Adams, who has been battling breast cancer, updates her readers about her treatment (Adams has breast cancer, which metastisized to her brain), and involves another aggressive round of chemotherapy. The post goes into matter-of-fact detail about the details ad frequency of treatment, but also ends with a touch of humor. Adams ends her blog with, "I get foggy quickly so I hope this post made sense!"
Humor is intertwined with sadness and fear too but in other forms of communication. An Oct. 24 post is a letter to her three young children. "No matter when, no matter how, I hope you will someday learn this powerful emotion I feel for you. You give me strength. You make me fight. You give me joy. You make my heart swell with pride."
In another post Adams expressed her battle with the disease through poetry:
Some days I don't
Feel like a gift,
Want to do this.
Candidness can also be expressed in the form of visuals too, and all three blogs were accompanied with photos, including up close and personal ones of the young women under treatment. Katy the author of "KatyDid Cancer: A blog about being a young breast cancer survivor. Musings on life, chemo, being bald, taking care of small kids and trying to work through treatment (http://katydidcancer.blogspot.com/)," posts pictures of her pre and post chemotherapy.
Another theme that emerged from the posts was advocacy, and bringing awareness to the breast cancer cause. In a Feb 4, 2015 post Katy spotlights "World Cancer Day," by writing
"Remember that on this World Cancer Day. We are all flawed, and it is only through flawed people pooling resources that we have ever, or will ever, solve any of the problems of the scourge of cancer. Here's to World Cancer Day, folks." In another post humor resurfaces again in the form of a post entitled "Graduation Day" that celebrates the end of a chemotherapy round.
Similar to the other blogs, Katy's posts aren't solely about treatment, they place cancer in the greater realm of what it is like living everyday life with cancer. There are photos of her husband and young children participating in activities such as dressing up as superheroes for Halloween.
Finally, another theme surfaces in the blogs: strong opinions about news worthy issues that affect women with breast cancer. The author of "I havebreastcancerblog" the author (one of those rare anonymous ones I found), has a recent post entitled "update on healthcare drama, or can you hear me screaming." The post is an in-depth piece about the author's frustrating experience with an Aetna invoice. "It shouldn't be so god damn difficult to get sufficient to your needs healthcare coverage as a breast cancer survivor or anyone else in this country. In a nutshell it's bullshit. And I know I don't normally curse on this blog, but enough is enough already." In a more recent piece entitled "emotional "warrior" ? or woman first?," she comments on a media inquiry received by a reporter seeking stories from women with breast cancer who have "closed the door on cancer -- maybe you just don't identify with being a "warrior" anymore." The author writes, "And moving on emotionally depends on your state of mind. I chose to not only be very open about my breast cancer but I made the conscious decision to be positive. I'm not Sister Mary Sunshine all of the time but I'm alive and I am living."
Despite the variety of topics and visual presentations, the blogs as a whole read like personal diaries, conversational, hopeful at times, and other times sad. Like an onion with multiple layers, they were a kaleidoscope of every day occurrences with the key distinction being the unique challenges of living the day to day with cancer including at times reflecting on mortality.
And in the end despite the anxiety, fears and pain relating to the illness, all carried an element of humor and hope. There was not a sign of complaint and bitterness in them, and ultimately they show that the Internet is ultimately an excellent forum for sharing topics and starting conversations that in a non-digital age would be less likely to exist.