Why Social Media Is Important For People With Breast Cancer

I’ll be the first to admit, I don’t read many blogs or follow people’s cancer experiences on social media, but I do see the value in them. Networks built around cancer – whether through Facebook, Twitter, blogs or hosted communities – have a particularly active presence in healthcare social media. During the past few years, through Facebook, I have found myself participating in social networks and communities in which other breast cancer survivors share their experience(s) and offer support. Over time some of these people have become “friends.”

There has been a significant rise in social media use since my breast cancer diagnosis in 2008.  Eight years ago, I vividly recall scouring the Internet for any shred of similarity and hope. I’d go pages deep into a Google search just to find something I could hold onto. I’d spend countless hours on message boards reading and discerning what was probably outdated information and/or negative situations. But what started as primarily a source of information, as patients learned the benefits – and the pitfalls – of “Googling” a diagnosis, has now evolved to a much more interactive and positive experience. In this age of online communication, social media plays a larger role in the way people diagnosed with breast cancer might manage their care. I’m not sure which came first, the chicken or the egg, but coinciding with the rise of social media in cancer care is the movement in which people newly diagnosed are becoming more active in their own healthcare decisions – educating themselves about diagnoses, treatment options, and prognoses, as well as reaching out for emotional support. Now, I think that people want to be informed patients, and actively ask questions relevant to their situations.

More than anything, I think social media’s impact on cancer care has greatly benefited survivorship – where patients, families and caregivers connect in communities about their similar experiences. Celebrities also have an influence within social media when it comes to cancer: Angelina Jolie sharing her story publicly has influenced many women, and her message continues to reverberate through the media universe.

I find the shift in the use of social media interesting, because it has become a standard communication format for many people. I wonder how we are going to utilize this shift to improve what people know about cancer, what we can do with that information and how we can raise awareness about cancer-related issues like new treatments, prevention, survivorship and clinical trials, among many other issues.

Until then, we will continue to count social and emotional support among the biggest benefits of social media. Social media gives patients and caregivers the ability to share and not feel so alone. For me, social media is primarily just that: social. I’m not necessarily looking for medical information, but I never know when I might gain knowledge through others’ experiences – and to me, that is a great benefit. Social networks allow us to stay connected, making these friendships ongoing sources of support.



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