Social media is an invaluable resource for any teenage or young adult cancer patient or survivor. While many of us are attached to our screens these days, it’s not always clear how we can best use those apps and sites we so often look at in a way that is beneficial to us as patients/survivors. As I have found through my own experiences, social media can be used to help overcome isolation, find support, find resources, learn about your illness, share your experiences, make a difference in the lives of others going through similar experiences, and raise awareness about the impact cancer has on a young person’s life.
No matter what platform you use (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.), social media can help you. In my own case, I was able to use it during my relapse treatment to connect with family and friends around the country and the world. Sharing updates with those I care about also enabled me to receive a lot of support in return. It was so uplifting to read words of encouragement posted by family and friends each day.
I also found social media to be helpful as a tool to find others going through similar experiences. Through websites like CarePages and CaringBridge, you can search for people going through the same illness who are of a similar age to you. When I was just starting my relapse treatment, I was able to find and connect with two different girls my age that had just completed their relapse treatments. I emailed and Facebook messaged with them over the course of my treatment, during which time we became good friends and I benefitted immensely from their advice. Even though I never met them in person, having those virtual friends also helped me feel less isolated because they understood exactly what I was going through and were able to help me feel as if I was no longer the only one my age dealing with such a challenge.
It has taken me much longer to appreciate the usefulness of social media when looking for resources and I definitely think this is an under-appreciated function of social media. Most cancer support organizations have Twitter and Facebook accounts through which they post awesome updates and share articles regularly. By following them, you can find all kinds of resources that address a wide range of treatment and survivorship issues.
Last but certainly not least, social media can be used to share your story. In doing so, you may provide inspiration and motivation to someone going through a similar experience. You may also find it very cathartic. At the same time, sharing your story is a great way to make others aware of the specific challenges facing teens and young adults throughout cancer treatment and survivorship.
Clarissa Schilstra is a two-time cancer survivor. She was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia for the first time when she was two and a half years old. She went through two and a half years of chemotherapy and survived. She led a happy and healthy life until June of 2007, shortly before her 13th birthday, when her cancer relapsed She went through another two and a half years of chemotherapy, this time accompanied by radiation. She is now twenty-one years old and a senior at Duke University. Her passion is helping others cope with the ups and downs of life during and after cancer treatment. It is her goal to become a clinical psychologist after she graduates from Duke, and she would like to help improve the psychological care available to adolescents and young adults who have serious illnesses. You can find Clarissa’s book, Riding the Cancer Coaster: Survival Guide for Teens and Young Adults, on Amazon.com. To learn more about Clarissa and her book, or to find AYA cancer support resources, visit her website and blog at www.teen-cancer.com.