In recent weeks I have been invited to share my cancer experiences with a great cross section of people and in very different settings, but they were all extremely powerful for both me and the audience. I have been doing this work now for approximately seven years, and it never ceases to amaze me how powerful it always is. Of course every audience is unique, and each presentation is delivered in a different way, to suit, but basically the message is the same. Not only does it have impact on the audience, but I always feel very emotional too! Last Saturday I spent the afternoon being filmed for Cancer Stories, a wonderful project that offers peer support through videos. This took me back to my original diagnosis and brought so many memories flooding back. For the people in the room it was their first time hearing my story, and everyone was quiet as I answered the questions on camera. It was a long session with some Q+A and will hopefully help many when the final edit is completed. We were all affected by cancer and were learning from each other.
Several weeks ago, I did a presentation to some new Interns at Macmillan Cancer Support, and received incredible feedback from some of the group. They were young, and for many it was their first experience of talking openly about the disease. But their responses across social media later showed the impact it had, prompting one young lady to feature my work in her own blog! It is always very humbling to realise the positive impact you can have on people by sharing your experiences. More recently I was invited to join the Anthony Nolan team at Parliament, to share the message of Destination Cure with MPs. This is covering the long term needs of Stem Cell Transplant patients. As with much about cancer, the major challenges can begin AFTER your treatment. My own case is a perfect example of that, with my cancer still in remission but my body suffering continual side effects from the treatment. Many do not understand the social, psychological and economic issues that we can face once leaving hospital. So this was a great opportunity to meet many people like myself, share experiences with each other and explain to the people responsible for decision making in the Health Service, the realities of life with long term illness. This session led to me being invited to meet personally with my own MP (Chris Philp) who wanted to understand more about the campaign and my own story. He shared my details across his social media and would like to involve me where appropriate in the future, which is very positive indeed.
Sharing face to face is very powerful but social media has become an extremely effective way of reaching people around the world! Helping to get the message out to so many people who may never have even been aware of you before. I have been contacted frequently by people connected to me on one of my channels, who have recently been affected by cancer who just didn’t know what to do. They had seen my work frequently and felt comfortable to contact me privately. I feel I have also been enriched by hearing other peoples experiences too, as they have added to my own, to give me a more rounded view of what is happening in the cancer world today. There are so many things that are common for most people affected by cancer, but it is surprising how we feel that we are the only one that it is affecting in this way.
Personally I find writing very cathartic, and having never written anything since school I was a little shocked about that. But now many are finding the same, as the number of cancer bloggers increases by the day. But the benefits of sharing experience go far beyond our own. Many professionals are now understanding the learning they can find in social media, helping them comprehend better the impact a cancer diagnosis is really having in someone’s life. Also people who are lucky enough to not have any cancer experience, can understand a little more. I have found the mix of personal presentations and social media to be extremely effective and nowdays where ever I am there is generally someone who is connected to me or aware of my work on the Internet.
To be able to share my experience in a positive way means a great deal to me. As my life began to crumble in front of my eyes, I could never imagine anything good coming from it. But somehow it has, and not just for me but for many others I have met along the way. However that all happened because I chose to share my experiences, which has helped me connect with so many wonderful people. There are however, very tough times as sharing is very much a two way street, you also hear a lot of bad news too. Cancer is a very difficult subject to communicate about and there are still very few people who are comfortable talking about it, which would probably include me, if I didn’t have my personal experience! It certainly is a conversation stopper when asked what I do and I reply “I write and speak about cancer.” But because there are more people affected by cancer and sharing their experiences, we are learning so much more about the impact of it in society.
I have also found that there are many people who prefer not to share their experience and do their best to move on, and if it works for them that is great. But my view of experience has always been that it only has a true value when shared, even bad ones, which may help others learn from what we have gone through! How do you feel about sharing your experiences? Has social media helped you, if not by sharing, but learning from others?