A breast cancer diagnosis can be an extremely devastating event in a person’s life. In the UK it is estimated that 1 in 8 women will receive a diagnosis at least once in her life. While many will reach out to friends and loved ones for support, some others will turn to the public sphere. Below I will point out a few more ways in which women can benefit from the support of peers online.
● Empathetic Connection
Whether you’re going through breast cancer yourself, or simply trying to hold it together for a loved one going through treatments, it can often be helpful to connect to others online who are going through the same ordeal. Sympathy may remind you that you are not alone, but it’s empathy that makes the difference between awareness of a community and feeling like you personally belong in it. Anyone can provide sympathy given the right social cues, but it takes someone who has personal experience with breast cancer to nourish the devastated with much needed empathy.
● Sharing Ideas
With the advent of network connections came new opportunities for sharing ideas, and rarely is idea sharing more essential than in the event of a medical crisis such as breast cancer. From simple ideas such as finding the best wig shops with the help of bona fide cancer veterans to more crucial ones such as deciding whether or not to consult a medical specialist, online networks can prove to be indispensable support systems when insurance and doctors’ opinions fall short. Simply having a resource to log into every day (or week, or month) can spell the difference between disability and capability, especially for those who lack adequate personal connections or resources.
● Inject humor into upsetting situations
Nearly every woman who has gone through arduous chemotherapy sessions for breast cancer can remember the day that her hair began to fall out in chunks instead of strands. For many, this can symbolize a loss of feminine identity and often coincides with a mastectomy, adding further insult to injury. Others may be reminded of their baby pictures and feel infantilized, disempowered, by the whole process. This calls for a helpful supporter who can point out the inescapable humor of the situation to women going through the trials of chemo and its resulting hair loss. Who would still feel sad
after being reminded that the examination room is lifeaffirmingly cold, or that she’ll be more convincing as Dr. Evil on Halloween? (Or Mr. Clean, for that matter...)
● Additional support systems in place to accommodate unexpected events
Is there anything more terrifying than waking up at 2 or 3 in the morning with a fresh set of unfamiliar symptoms? How about having symptoms that appeared earlier in treatment but were supposed to be gone by now? For women that feel too guilty to call upon live people, who may already be waistdeep in their own problems and preoccupied - or sleeping - an Internet connection can be lifesaver. The reason for this is really simple: not everybody on that network is in the same time zone, which makes the patient more likely to get the support she needs when she needs it without feeling guilty for asking.
● More people to celebrate with
The best message a woman with breast cancer can get from a doctor is that she is cancerfree. And with a survival rate at 78 percent over a tenyear period, many women do live long enough to hear the good news. What better way to tell it to the world than through a supportive social network? With so many people online, tracking a patient’s progress with excitement and in earnest, women who make it through chemotherapy or experience the lucky break of remission have that many more opportunities to celebrate and guests to invite to the party.