Using Social Media When the News is Bad

by Brian on March 6, 2009

in A Parent in Israel

When my brother called at 7:30 AM, I knew something was wrong. We had already made a plan to speak at 8:00 PM that night to discuss some work we are doing together. What could be so urgent about revising a project plan?

Dad had been diagnosed with lymphoma that morning, my brother said. It was too early to tell how far it had spread, what stage it’s in, what the course of treatment would be, or even what type of lymphoma he had out of the dozens of variations.

Nevertheless, I felt my heart drop into my stomach. I was stunned. My brother and I discussed what we should do next. We resolved to speak regularly as news came in. I took a long hot shower. I felt my eyes get misty, but it could have been the steam.

My next thought, though, caught me by surprise. I felt a strong need to spread the word via social media. I intuitively knew I had to blog about it. I updated my Facebook status and posted to my Twitter account.

The responses came in quickly. Suggestions on who to talk to, where to look for more information. Personal reflections on their own experiences. Words of support.

I have been using social media since 2002 when I started this blog. Over the years, my readership has grown to include people from California to Australia, most of whom I’ve never met.

My subscribers have shared in my parenting triumphs and political ruminations. Restaurant reviews, travelogues and hi-tech profiles. They have, in many ways, become like an extended family. So it was only logical that I would want to draw some comfort from the community.

I’m certainly not the first to use social media this way.

My friend Rivka Matitya has been blogging about her own cancer at the Coffee and Chemo site. While most of her posts are about trying to lead a normal life – being a mom, paying board games, swimming – some are more grim.

Lying in bed at 1:00 AM with the computer in her lap makes her feel “less isolated and less sorry for myself,” she said in an article last year in the Jerusalem Post. Writing the blog also helps her explore certain ideas that are easier written down than shared in conversation.

“By being able to write about it and put it out there, that was the first step toward articulating those fears about breaking down, and that was very important – I can discuss it now, talk to somebody about it without sobbing,” she said.

Another cancer patient interviewed in the Post described the online experience this way: Her writing, she said, “was an outlet for me to write down whatever I feel without fear of being judged for showing weakness.” Perhaps appropriately, when she went into remission, she received the news from her mother electronically – via SMS.

In addition to individual blogs, there are also a number of dedicated online communities – such as MyCancerPlace, What Now? and NPR’s Our Cancer – where individuals can come together to share stories and advice, post pictures, and interact with other members via forums and groups.

It’s impossible to say what’s coming next for my dad. The one thing I know for sure: You’ll be reading more about it online.

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